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A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe: Vol I The Struggle for Universal Empire
- The Dismemberment of the Empire of Charles the Great
by David Jayne Hill, LL.D.


The entire realm of Charles the Great fell by inheritance to the feeblest and least capable of his sons, whose abnormal conscience and unstable will have won for him the appellation of the "Pious" and the "Débonnaire." Better adapted to the life of a monastery than to the responsibilities of a throne, this weak and vacillating ruler, dominated by morbid impulses and spasmodic penitence, was the victim of feminine ambition, the jealousy and rebellion of his sons, and evils inherent in his time which only the hand of a powerful master could have held in check Dismissing his father's trusted ministers, attempting a series of futile reforms, and prostrating himself before imaginary terrors, he soon undid the great work that had been accomplished. Taking with his own hands from the altar of the cathedral in Aachen the crown his father had bestowed upon him, be placed it upon his head amid the approving shouts of his nobles; but, when Pope Stephen IV, in 816, crossed the Alps bearing an imperial diadem, Lewis prostrated himself upon the ground before him and permitted himself to be crowned again by the Pope at Reims. It was the first time in history that a crown had been thus received.

Although Stephen IV so far ratified the coronation of Lewis in 813 as to date his reign from that year, an unusual significance was attached to this second coronation. The crown which Stephen brought from Rome was presented as a gift. from St. Peter, and was soon afterward referred to as "the crown of Constantine." It cannot be doubted, therefore, that this act was one of political significance, not as affecting the royal prerogatives of the Frankish kings, but as implying a certain dependence upon the Papacy in connection with the Roman Empire. Henceforth all the emperors are crowned by the Pope, even though, as in the case of Lothair I, there was a previous coronation.

The procedure of Stephen IV no doubt obtained its chief significance from the alleged "Donation of Constantine."1 This document, now universally admitted to be a fabrication, purports to be a deed of gift made to Pope Sylvester I by the Emperor Constantine the Great, in which the Pope is granted the highest honors, confirmed in his primacy over the Eastern patriarchates, and offered an imperial diadem. The fact that Stephen IV carried a crown from Rome to be conferred upon Lewis, easily gave rise to the conjecture that this crown was the identical diadem offered by Constantine to Sylvester. The deed of gift conveyed to the Pope dominion over Rome and all of Italy, "or the western regions." To insure the acceptance of this extraordinary document, it was added that, "if any one prove a scorner or despiser in this matter, he shall be subject and bound over to eternal damnation; and shall feel that the holy chiefs of the Apostles of God - Peter and Paul-will be opposed to him in the present and in the future life."2

Having received the papal blessing, Lewis, in utter disregard of his father's will, which left Italy to Bernard, promptly subdivided his empire, making his eldest son, Lothair, co- emperor with himself, with the kingdom of Italy as his portion during his own life; assigning Aquitaine to Pippin, his second son; and Bavaria to Lewis, the youngest. But Bernard rose in rebellion against this dispossession, and, notwithstanding a safe conduct that had been given him by the Emperor, was thrown into prison and condemned to death. Lewis, as an act of grace, commuted the sentence to blinding, but the work was done in such a clumsy manner that Bernard died. Filled with remorse, Lewis now fell into a state of melancholy, increased by the death of his wife, Hermengarde, who was believed to have caused the death of Bernard; but, following the advice of his counsellors, he ordered a concourse of beauties to be brought before him, and, choosing the fairest, was soon consoled with the lovely Judith, the young daughter of Welf, Count of Altdorf in Suabia.

Their son, Charles, born in 823, became the occasion of untold evils to the Empire. His mother insisted that be also should be provided with a kingdom, and Lewis yielded to this demand. A violent rebellion supervened, the elder sons deprived their father of his liberty, and deposed him from the throne. The absurd penances and melodramatic confessions of Lewis divested him of all dignity before his court; but the humiliations and sufferings imposed by his sons rallied about him the sympathy and support of the nobles, and, in 830, his crown was restored; but his folly was not ended.

No sooner had Lewis remounted the throne than he renewed the contest with his sons by stripping Lewis and Pippin of a portion of their lands in the interest of Charles. Lothair, accompanied by Pope Gregory IV, crossed the Alps with an army to resist his father's projects. The other brothers eagerly joined their forces with those of Lothair, while the Pope, entering the camp of the Emperor to negotiate, secretly used his influence to disband the imperial army, which soon melted away to augment the forces of his rebellious sons. Left alone in his camp, Lewis, broken-hearted, delivered himself into the power of the rebels. A list of his offences was prepared and put into his hands; then, in the garb of a penitent, he was made to confess his sins before the people. Though once more restored to power in 835, the Empire had received in his person a fatal humiliation. The Papacy, also, had suffered in reputation; for the scene of the defection from Lewis has been called "The Field of Lies." It is due to Gregory IV, however, to observe that his mission was in the interest of peace. Not only had the unity of the Empire been destroyed by the fatal policy of partition, but the harmony of its parts was now imperilled by the stubborn folly of the Emperor.

The pathetic story of the vacillations and illusions by which Lewis undermined his throne is too long to be recounted here. After a series of civil wars and unwise partitions, the misguided monarch finally left his empire to be fought for by his sons. Pippin of Aquitaine having died, the last partition gave Lewis the Duchy of Bavaria, leaving Lothair and young Charles to divide the remainder of the imperial realm between them. Lothair, with the title of Emperor, was to have the middle part of the Empire, including Saxony, the lands of the Rhine and the Meuse, Suabia, Burgundy, Provence, and Italy; while Charles was to receive Neustria and Aquitaine, being the greater part of Northern and Western Gaul. The young son of Pippin of Aquitaine, who bore his father's name, was to be totally disinherited.

By the death of Lewis the Pious in 840, the imperial title fell to Lothair, but he was far from possessing the Empire. His opportunity to show his fitness for it revealed the extent of his incapacity. Instead of seeking to obtain the ratification of his father's will by negotiation with his brothers, he disregarded the provisions of the only document upon which he could rest his claims and began war against both Charles and Lewis. While Lothair was pursuing his ambitious schemes to reduce his brothers, they resolved to combine against him, and he soon found himself between two armies advancing toward the Rhine to overwhelm him. Seeking to increase his force before risking a battle, Lothair promised to establish young Pippin in the kingdom of Aquitaine, if he would aid him with his army. The offer was accepted. Lothair temporized by a pretence of negotiation until his ally was in the field, then promptly announced that a battle was necessary. It was a reckless decision, for the battle of Fontenoy, fought on June 25, 841, was to end the glory of the Frankish Empire, and its bloody field was to be the birth place of new nations.

While Lothair retreated with his shattered army to Aachen, and Pippin led his broken forces back to Aquitaine, Lewis and Charles resolved to reap the fruits of their victory. The next spring they met at Strasburg, and bound themselves by a solemn oath to pursue Lothair to his capital, and wring from him a recognition of their rights.3 This Oath of Strasburg is esteemed as a most precious document, because it is the earliest evidence of the progress made in the formation of two great national languages which we now know as French and German; for the followers of Lewis, - Saxons and Bavarians, - differed so widely in speech from the West Franks, who were led by Charles, that neither side could understand the other. Hence Lewis took the oath in French while Charles made his vow in German. It was a significant token of that great change which had been going on for centuries, by which the Franks of Gaul were Latinized, while the Germans were developing their own native elements of speech and thought. At the time when Charles the Great began to organize his empire, the Germans were still living in their old tribal relations. More than any other influence that had yet affected them, the Empire, by creating a wider community of interests, had touched and awakened their national instincts. When political events rendered possible a new grouping of races and languages, which the influence of the Empire had both stimulated and retarded, the developing spirit of nationality was to create an antagonism between the Latin and the German which has never ceased to affect the destinies of Europe.

Driven from his capital by his allied brothers, Lothair halted at Lyons to consider the chances of making peace. After negotiations undertaken at Metz and Coblenz a treaty of peace was finally signed at Verdun, in August, 843, which recognized the nominal existence of the Empire, at least so far as the imperial title was concerned. 4 This honor was accorded to Lothair, but without corresponding prerogatives. The territory of the Empire was divided into three portions, the lines of division running as nearly as possible north and south. The central portion, assigned to Lothair, was a long, narrow strip, extending from the North Sea as far south as Central Italy, and containing the two imperial capitals, Rome and Aachen. It included the territory extending from the mouths of the Rhine and the Yssel on the north to the mouth of the Rhone, and comprising the most of Burgundy, all of Provence, and the greater part of Italy. The eastern portion, ceded to Lewis, who is henceforth called the "German," included all the Germanic lands east of the Rhine, - Saxony, Franconia, Suabia, and Bavaria, - and the suzerainty over the Slavic tribes to the East. The western portion, ceded to Charles, known to later times as Charles the "Bald," comprised Neustria, Aquitaine, the Spanish March, and Western Burgundy. Young Pippin was entirely stripped of his heritage, which was given to Charles.

The Treaty of Verdun is, perhaps, in its influence upon European history, the most important international document ever written; for it not only bequeathed to Europe its two most coherent and permanent national units, France and Germany, but created between them a field of contention on which they were to fight out their interminable conflicts. The kingdoms of Charles the Bald and Lewis the German, corresponding in a broad sense to the two modern nationalities of France and Germany, each possessed a certain racial unity and geographical coherence; but the kingdom of Lothair was a miscellaneous aggregate of disparate territories, without any natural bond or principle of unity. Composed of the most diverse populations, a prey to the cupidity of its neighbors on both sides, its extremes remote from each other and separated by the great barrier of the Alps, it was exposed to every danger and devoid of every natural protection. The fertile valleys of the Rhine, the Rhone, and the Po; the whole of the Netherlands; Alsace-Lorraine, Burgundy, Switzerland, Savoy, and Italy, - all these theatres of dynastic struggle and international tragedy were within the limits of the ill-fated kingdom of Lothair. We shall see how quickly its fictitious unity was broken and its doom of dismemberment pronounced. Predestined by the Treaty of Verdun to be the gage and pawn of nations, and to be divided into small border states separating the territories, while at the same time tempting the ambitions of great antagonists, it has become the most fiercely contested battle-ground of Europe. Its possession being essential to the pretensions of empire, it has been the prey of every great conqueror and the victim of nearly every European readjustment.

The partition of Verdun created a new problem. The Empire, under Charles the Great, had represented the unity of Western Christendom; but now that its territory was divided into three nearly equal portions, under three nearly equal rulers, what could preserve that unity and prevent internecine wars between these independent kings? The Church was deeply interested in this problem, for the Empire was not only its creation, it was still necessary to its highest interests, which were now seriously endangered. The establishment of separate monarchies revived the possibility of national churches and exposed the border bishops, whose estates were subdivided and placed under two forms of authority, to the danger of spoliation by both; while the restriction of the imperial jurisdiction reduced the Emperor to little more than an Italian king, unable to defend the broader interests of the Church, and more likely to impose upon the Papacy that royal supremacy which the Empire had thus far served to avert.

Lothair attempted through the appointment of Drogo, a natural son of Charles the Great, as Archbishop of Metz and Vicar of the Holy See over the countries north of the Alps, to create a bond of union between the three kingdoms; but Drogo never exercised his prerogatives, and the scheme proved futile. Nothing was left, therefore, but for the brothers to respect the provisions of the Treaty of Verdun, and to govern in accord with one another. This idea was supported by the bishops, and efforts were put forth to create, as a substitute for imperial unity, a "confraternity" which would secure peace and concord. At Thionville, in 844, after an interchange of embassies and laborious negotiations, the three kings held a conference in which "the rights of fraternity and charity" were proclaimed to be inviolable, and the confraternity was thus established. The compact was, in substance, based upon two pledges: (1) not to inflict injuries upon one another; and (2) to render mutual assistance. It was, in effect, an attempt to create in place of the unitary empire which the partition had practically dissolved, a federal empire in which the three brothers were co-sovereigns.

The whole period following the accession of Lewis the Pious was not only filled with family feuds and civil strife, but devastation was spread over the whole Empire by the barbarian invaders who beset its borders, ascending its rivers, and penetrating far into the interior. The ships of the Vikings harried the coasts and ravaged the valleys of the North and West; the Arabs attacked the shores of the Mediterranean, occupying Sicily and Southern Italy; while the Hungarians swept over Eastern Germany, at first without resistance. Devoid of central authority, weakened by civil war, and preoccupied with its dynastic dissensions, the divided Empire was unable to afford protection to its frontiers; and the invaders, emboldened by its impotence, extended their incursions farther into the interior. The Arabs of Sicily sent their piratical craft to the rich ports of Northern Italy, and a band of Spanish Moors seized and held the sea-girt fortress of Fraxinet, from which they ravaged the south of France. The whole valley of the Rhone was pillaged, and bands of plundering Magyars and Saracens are said to have met and fought each other near Neuchâtel, in the very heart of the Empire. After devastating the land, the Danes even plundered the old capital of Aachen, stabling their horses in its cathedral and desecrating the tomb of Charles the Great.

The rapid movements of the invaders and the absence of effective strongholds presented difficulties with which neither the imperial nor the royal powers were competent to deal. Local defence became necessary everywhere, and only local authority was able to provide for it. The feudal land tenure had for a long time prepared the way for feudal government. The domination of the counts and bishops, so ably held in check by Charles the Great, had found a new opportunity in the dissensions of the Empire, and had increased enormously; for, as central power was relaxed, local power became more absolute, The warring kings of the divided Empire sought to propitiate the favor of the greater nobles, and these were thus confirmed in their local freedom and importance.

When, therefore, the invaders came, it was to the counts and bishops, rather than to their distant rulers, that the people looked for protection. The rivers were defended by fortified bridges; castles, hitherto unknown in the Frankish realms, were erected in great numbers and of formidable strength; and while the population, seeking protection from the invaders, gathered under their walls, mailed horsemen went forth to defend the fields. Thus grew up a new social system, military at first, but finally also political; for the feudal castle became the seat of public authority as well as the general asylum of shelter, and the armed horseman who possessed it with his retinue of retainers was the only representative of effective government.

Thus garrisoned, the country was able to put an end to the incursions and pillage of the invader, but a new political order had been thereby engendered. The protector and the protected, the lord and his vassal, the castle and the land, the knight and his retainers,-these were to remain when the Arab, the Viking, and the Magyar had departed; for they were enduring elements of social reorganization, and, though kings and emperors were still to be crowned, it was the feudal barons in their strongholds who were to rule the people, as they had saved the land in its hour of danger.

While the partition of Verdun had made as nearly as possible an equal division of the imperial territory between the three monarchs, it had accorded to Lothair the title of Emperor. Although no provision was made for exercising the titular primacy thus bestowed upon him, his central position between his brothers gave him the balance of power and the place of a pacificator; for, by turning his hand to one or the other side, he could secure their observance of the principles of the confraternity. It was impossible, however, for the Emperor to forget that the affiance of his brothers by the Oath of Strasburg had created the existing condition of affairs. Isolated, he was powerless to accomplish his will with either. United, they were, in reality, the masters of the situation. Jealous of the good understanding between Charles the Bald and Lewis the German, Lothair endeavored first to make a personal alliance with Lewis; then, having failed in this attempt, to form a closer union with Charles. The long story of the diplomatic negotiations between the three monarchs is of too little importance to the history of Europe to be recounted here. Nor is the Treaty of Mersen of 851, by which the confraternity became a specific compact, of great significance. The personal alliance which Lothair sought was secured by the Treaty of Liège of 854, but it bore no fruits either to him or to Charles the Bald, who was obliged to depend upon himself alone in suppressing the uprising of Pippin of Aquitaine and in withstanding the army sent against him by Lewis the German.

The death of Lothair I, on September 28, 855, occasioned a further dismemberment of the Empire, by which the imperial title, with Italy, passed to Lewis II; Lotharingia to Lothair II; and Provence to a third son, Charles. The conditions of equilibrium were now profoundly modified, for the imperial power was still further reduced, and the Emperor was virtually only King of Italy, while Provence was the heritage of an epileptic child, and Lotharingia was too feeble to serve as an effective mediator between France and Germany.

Resolved to overthrow Charles the Bald and make himself master of his brother's kingdom, Lewis the German undertook first to win as his ally Lothair II, and afterward the Emperor, Lewis II; with the result that, although he succeeded in making the Emperor his friend, he could not secure the alliance of Lothair II, who cast in his lot with Charles.

Failing to isolate Charles by his alliances, Lewis now entered into relations with the rebels of Aquitaine, who had never fully submitted to the King's supremacy, and with the feudal lords who were disloyal to him. Notwithstanding the energetic efforts of Charles to repress this disaffection, in July, 858, Count Eudes, representing the disaffected nobles, formally requested the intervention of Lewis the German to put an end to the alleged tyranny of Charles. The critical moment had arrived, and Lewis promptly invaded his brother's kingdom.

Hastening from the scene of his conflict with the Norman invaders, to meet the attack of Lewis, Charles found himself too feeble to resist him, and entered upon a course of negotiations. After sending five embassies to his brother, Charles discovered that the emissaries of Lewis were energetically sowing the seeds of disloyalty among his nobles; and, perceiving himself abandoned by great numbers, he retreated into Burgundy. Marching through the country without opposition, Lewis now dated royal documents from the palace of Attigny as King of France, and exercised all the rights of sovereignty.

It was at this moment that the power of the Church made itself felt in a remarkable manner. Lewis had boldly disregarded the treaty of confraternity, and was, in fact, performing an act of usurpation. In order to render his sovereignty legitimate, he now convoked the bishops for November 25, 858, at Reims, with the pretext of restoring the interests of the Church. Under the leadership of Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, the French bishops met at Quierzy, and addressed a letter to Lewis, in which, with great skill, they explained their non-appearance before him, distinctly put in issue the question of his legitimate authority, and asserted that, for the eviction of a recognized and consecrated sovereign a general assembly of the bishops of the realm was necessary. The document is an instructive commentary upon the power of the Church as a counterpoise to the lay nobles, who, at this critical moment, left the monarch helpless and alone. Informed by Hincmar of the rebuff administered to Lewis, Charles now rallied his forces and surprised his brother at the monastery of St. Quentin, whither he had retired to celebrate the festivities of Christmas. Lewis, without resistance, on January 15, 859, retreated over the Rhine, and Charles again took possession of his kingdom.

Having restored their sovereign to his throne, the bishops now sought to close the incident by consolidating peace. Representing a synod called at Metz, in May, Hincmar and a delegation of French bishops presented themselves before Lewis the German, at Worms, on June 4, 859, with the text of a treaty in their hands. Lewis received them kindly, saying that, if he had offended them in any respect, he wished to be pardoned; but he would make no agreement until he had consulted his own bishops. Regarding the diplomacy of Charles as likely to be less formidable than that of his representatives, Lewis besought a private interview, which occurred not far from Andernach, in July, 859.

The meeting on a little island of the Rhine having been arranged, each of the two kings was accompanied by the same number of adherents to the opposite banks of the river. There, they left their escorts and proceeded by boat to the island, where they conducted their interview face to face and alone. Charles demanded that the nobles who had betrayed him should be abandoned to his will. This Lewis absolutely refused.

Ending without result, the conference was adjourned till the following October, when Lothair II was to be present. As Lothair was then absent in Italy, the meeting never occurred; but on June 1, 860, the three kings with their bishops and nobles assembled at Coblenz to establish peace. After five days of negotiation, a treaty was ratified in which Charles surrendered his claim to punish his rebels for their disloyalty, and the strange doctrine was thereby accepted that a king might foment rebellion in the domains of another and afterward protect the traitors from the wrath of their sovereign.

It appeared, without doubt, a diplomatic defeat for Charles, as well as for the principle of sovereignty; but, while yielding to Lewis in permitting the disloyal nobles to retain their estates inherited from their ancestors, or acquired otherwise than by the gift of Charles, he held to the right of withdrawing from them any benefits he might personally have conferred; thus applying a strong motive for repentance and future loyalty. On the other hand, Lewis the German derived no advantage from his acts of aggression and usurpation, while suffering not only a complete defeat of his purposes but a serious loss of prestige. The entire absence of the Emperor from participation in this settlement indicates how absolutely the imperial influence was now confined to Italy.

The threefold division of the empire of Lothair I - itself only a fraction of that of Charles the Great - appeared to be fatal to its future unity; but Lothair II, who had inherited Lotharingia as his portion, perceived a ray of hope in the fact that neither of his brothers - Lewis II and Charles of Provence - possessed an heir. Two problems, therefore, presented themselves to him: (1) to conciliate the friendship of his brothers and of his uncles, Lewis the German and Charles the Bald, to the end that his own line might peacefully resume the succession; and (2) to secure the divorce of his queen, Teutberga, by whom he had no children, in order to legitimate his offspring by Waldrada, whom he wished to marry. The solution of these problems on the one hand, and the frustration of Lothair's plans on the other, now became the centre and substance of the Carlovingian diplomacy.

The first problem Lothair attempted to solve by a bargain with his brothers and a policy of neutrality toward his uncles. To his brother Charles, he ceded by treaty, in 858, two dioceses of his own territory, on condition that Provence should fall to himself in case his young brother had no natural heir. To Lewis II, in like manner, in 859, he presented the bishoprics of Geneva, Lausanne, and Sion, in expectation of a like succession.

Having thus bestowed upon his brothers portions of his inheritance in the hope of recovering them with usury, he held aloof from the conflict between Lewis the German and Charles the Bald, notwithstanding his previous alliance with the latter, and was thus prepared to assume the middle ground of mediator between them. Perceiving, however, that his value to both consisted in his rôle as peacemaker, and knowing that when peace was made his influence would be diminished, he endeavored to use them for his purpose in solving his second problem, the divorce, upon which all his hopes depended.

Accordingly, in order to secure a decision in his favor before the reconciliation of his uncles, Lothair had called a council at Aachen, in February, 860, a few months before the peace conference at Coblenz. With the hope of inducing his uncles to approve the decisions of the council, - which he expected in the existing circumstances to be favorable to the divorce, - he invited to be present bishops of all three kingdoms. The wily Hincmar, too astute to compromise the interests of his sovereign, Charles the Bald, whom he had already served so effectively, excused himself from participation; but two French prelates were present. Teutberga was found unworthy, but the designs of Lothair fell short of accomplishment by the fact that the council, while thus sustaining him in part, did not annul the marriage or authorize him to take another wife.

Whether or not this miscarriage of Lothair's plans is to be attributed to Hincmar's influence, it is certain that it was the policy of that sagacious prelate to defeat the intention of Lothair; for, while the King was striving by means of the divorce to secure the inheritance of his brothers for his own children, Hincmar was looking forward to the day when Charles the Bald would secure not only the imperial title, but the inheritance of all three of his nephews.

Hincmar, therefore, in the autumn of 860, after the peace of Coblenz had been concluded, wrote a dissertation on the divorce of Lothair and Teutberga, in which he not only exposed the irregularities of the council of Aachen, but took the ground that a general council of the bishops of all the kingdoms was necessary both to determine the truth concerning the accusations brought against the Queen, and the right of Lothair II to marry in case she was found guilty.

The divorce thus ceased to be of merely personal or local interest, and became at once, in the light of the conflict which the discussion disclosed, a question of European importance. The act of Hincmar precipitated the issue, and was immediately productive of results. Lothair promptly turned for help to Lewis the German, with whom he made an alliance by a treaty in which he promised Lewis the expectation of Elsass. Teutberga having, in the meantime, taken refuge in France and appealed Lo the Pope, Lothair summoned a council of bishops of his own realm, whose decisions were virtually dictated by him, sent an embassy to Pope Nicholas I to defend his cause, and while awaiting the result married and crowned Waldrada.

All relations having been broken off between Lothair II and Charles the Bald, Lewis the German became, in turn, the mediator. As King of Germany, the task had fallen to him of constituting the bulwark of Europe against the barbarians, who were now pressing westward over his frontiers, while he was at the same time reaping the harvest of his own disloyalty to his father in the revolts and avarice of his sons. Inclining, therefore, to peace, he invited Charles the Bald and Lothair II to meet him at Savonnières, near Toul. Charles responded to the summons, but Lothair, knowing that Charles would not deal with him directly, merely sent a representative. As the basis of discussion, Hincmar prepared a memorandum of ten articles in which were set forth the scandal of Lothair's conduct and the griefs of Charles, the most important indictment being that Lothair had dared to marry Waldrada.

The ten articles were sent to Lothair, who, in reply, while in fact continuing his course, evaded further controversy by stating that the subject had been referred to the Pope, whose decision he was awaiting. The pact of Coblenz was now renewed, but the cause of Lothair was virtually lost. In submitting his case to the papal tribunal he had wholly miscalculated the forces with which he had to deal.

The death of Charles of Provence on January 25, 863, revealed the emptiness of Lothair's diplomacy. He had, indeed, obtained from his brother Charles a transfer of his rights; but Lewis II had never confirmed this arrangement, and now came forward to claim his portion. The position of Lothair was not such that he could well deny the claims of the Emperor, for in the matter of the divorce the support of Lewis II was of great importance. Lothair had appealed to Rome, and it was at Rome that all their rivalries were now to be judged and regulated.

A council having been called by the Pope to meet at Metz, where delegations of bishops from Germany, France, and Provence were to join with those of Lotharingia in determining the question of divorce, Lothair bought up the papal legates, the foreign bishops were not summoned, Teutberga was condemned by Lothair's bishops, the divorce was sanctioned, and Lothair appeared to be triumphant But Nicholas I, who had reserved the right to review the action of the council, unearthed the fraud, deposed the two papal legates, and took the decision into his own hands.

The discovery of his act of bribery and the punishment inflicted on the guilty legates suddenly rendered desperate the position of Lothair, for he had not only compromised himself irretrievably with the Pope, but his own bishops, fearing the papal anathema, no longer dared support his cause.

While Lewis the German and Charles the Bald were preparing to divide Lotharingia between them, Nicholas I, abandoning the idea of trying Lothair before a council at Rome, demanded and received his humble confession and promise of obedience. Asserting his authority over the entire situation, the Pope then sent his legate, Arsenus, Bishop of Orta, in April, 865, to visit the three monarchs, with instructions, first to restore Teutberga to her position as wife and queen, then to impress Lewis the German and Charles the Bald with the divine and hereditary right of Lothair II to his kingdom, and finally to enforce upon all these kings peace and concord. The mission of Arsenus was in every respect successful The monarchs bowed submissively to the will of Nicholas, and the papal authority achieved a perfect triumph.

The resolute action of Nicholas I seemed for a time to have settled definitively the controversies which had agitated the three kingdoms. Disappointed with the course of events, which had prevented the immediate partition of Lothair's kingdom, Charles the Bald temporarily dismissed from his service Hincmar, who had been virtually his prime minister and had inspired his defeated policy. Left to himself, Charles now pursued a course of conciliation, and even seemed disposed to aid Lothair to reopen his case at Rome. The death of Nicholas I, in November, 867, suddenly rendered this expedient more hopeful. Inspired with the belief that the new pontiff, Adrian II, a timorous and vacillating man, could be prevailed upon to reverse the decision of his energetic predecessor, Lothair put forth every effort to accomplish that result. Weary of a union which had become odious to her, Teutberga was easily induced to avow an incestuous relation with her brother. Adrian II, wishing to pursue a middle course, now removed the ban which Nicholas I had placed upon Waldrada, but was not at all disposed to authorize the divorce. Pressing his case at Rome with strenuous persistence, Lothair finally induced the Empress, Engelberga, to plead with the Holy Father for a reconsideration of the case. As a result, on July 1, 869, the Pope, after administering the sacrament to Lothair, declared his neutrality, the affair was to be referred once more to a council, Lewis the German had relented, and Charles was, apparently, on the point of yielding, when, on August 8, an attack of fever at Piacenza ended forever the unhappy controversy by Lothair's sudden death.

Legally childless, the dead king's estates were now claimed by his uncles. The rights of his brother, the Emperor Lewis II, had no defence except the merely formal protection of an irresolute Pope; while in Lotharingia itself, two parties existed, one favorable to France, the other to Germany. After a menace of hostilities by the prompt invasion of Lotharingia, the task of partitioning the kingdom was referred to a mixed commission, composed of twelve French and twelve German members; but, as no agreement could be reached, it was decided that the matter be concluded by the two kings in person. On August 8, 870, therefore, on a promontory in the river Meuse, near Mersen, the two monarchs, each accompanied by four bishops, ten councillors, and thirty servants, met and divided between them the kingdom of Lothair.5

The report of the partition was received at Rome with a protest by Lewis II, whose hereditary claims had been ignored, and by Pope Adrian II, who perfunctorily sustained them. Their envoys, however, received no satisfaction. Lewis the German appears to have contented himself with sending to the Pope an oral explanation of his conduct, but its nature is unknown. In behalf of Charles the Bald, the crafty Hincmar, now restored to royal favor, prepared a reply in which he defended the occupation of Lotharingia as an expedient rendered necessary in the interests of peace, since the nobles of the country had declared against Lewis II. The right of the spiritual power to intervene was also questioned; since, it was alleged, the affair did not concern the Papacy. In order, however, to soften the nature of this reply, Ansegisus, the ambassador of Charles, carried costly presents to Adrian II, among them a superb altar cloth embroidered with gold, and two gold crowns set with precious stones.

A few months later, while Charles the Bald and Lewis the German were negotiating to secure the submission of their sons, who had openly rebelled and sought refuge with their uncles, the announcement was received that the Emperor Lewis II had been killed in Southern Italy. Instantly the negotiations ended by according complete pardon to the sons; for in a contest for the imperial succession the rivals could not be embarrassed by family quarrels. With a sudden exhibition of loyalty, young Charles the Fat went to secure the adhesion of as many nobles as possible for his father, Lewis the German, while Charles the Bald proceeded to Besançon, in order to be ready to march at once into Italy. The news proved to be false, but from this moment the energies of both monarchs were bent exclusively upon securing the imperial crown.

The rival kings were soon to discover not only that the imperial succession was not open, but that the Empress, Engelberga, had plans of her own. Having no son to inherit the imperial crown, she hoped by dexterous bargaining to augment the Emperor's diminished power during his life and to dictate the eventual disposition of his heritage. With this end in view, she proposed to meet Lewis the German at Trent, and Charles the Bald at St. Maurice, hoping to obtain from each of them concessions of immediate importance in exchange for future benefits. According to the account of Hincmar, in her interview with Lewis the German, in the spring of 872, the Empress secretly obtained his consent to surrender to the Emperor his portion of the kingdom of Lothair II; but what advantages were promised in return is not reported. Disturbed by his apprehensions of her designs Charles the Bald now declined to continue his journey to St. Maurice to meet the Empress, and in answer to a second invitation merely sent ambassadors.

The only appreciable effect of Engelberga'a negotiations was to confirm Charles the Bald in his caution and activity. On September 9, at an assembly of the bishops and counts, his suspicions led him to demand of his nobles a new oath to defend his kingdom "present and to come." This step was based on the assumption that Lewis the German had broken his alliance and entered upon secret and hostile engagements with the Empress. The whole attitude of Charles the Bald is henceforth that of preparation for an impending conflict.

In his campaign for the imperial succession, it was not to the Emperor but to the Pope that Charles looked for support. He had long and systematically cultivated friends at Rome among the ecclesiastics and the Italian aristocracy. Pope Nicholas I had indicated his preference for Charles as an imperial candidate, and Adrian II had been fortified in this inclination by rich gifts and by the influence of Ansegisus, the ambassador of Charles, who prolonged his sojourn at Rome for the purpose of sealing the Pope's friendship. The result of these efforts was, that Adrian II wrote to Charles a private letter, in which he secretly pledged his word never freely to accept another than the King of France as emperor.6 Thus assured by the solemn promise of the Pope, Charles the Bald had no need to negotiate with the Empress, whatever her terms might be. The only document which could be regarded as a constitution of the Empire affecting the imperial succession was the "Ordinatio" of 817, in which Lewis the Pious had provided that, in case the elder branch of his family should fail of a male heir, an emperor should be chosen among his sons by an "election" in which the "divine will" was to be expressed.7

The determination of the succession was thus practically referred to the Pope, who, by common consent, was regarded as the proper medium for ascertaining what the divine will was. His part in the transaction was further confirmed by the reply which Lewis II had sent in 871 to a letter from the court of Constantinople in which the title of Emperor was denied him.8 In this remarkable document, Lewis II declares that both the kingdom of the Franks and the imperial crown of the Romans were received by his ancestors from the "Mother of all the churches of God" through the laying on of hands and anointing by the Pope. The imperial succession is expressly referred to as "a divine operation through the papal consecration."

To this theory of the Empire the death of Adrian II, on December 14, 872, added the weight of a vigorous and resourceful personality in the new pope, John VIII, who was prepared to make the most of the papal prerogatives. When, therefore, Lewis II expired at Brescia on August 12, 875, John VIII, following out the long cherished intentions of the Holy See, secretly sent an embassy to Charles the Bald, inviting him to come to Rome and receive his coronation.

The fortuitous combination of circumstances which, in this particular case, practically placed the imperial crown in the hands of the Pope, was to give him thenceforth the exclusive bestowment of it, and to render him in appearance the source of the imperial honor. Since he possessed the power to confer, it was an easy inference that he also had the power to deny, and the right to withhold the crown was in due time asserted. Thus, although John VIII appears to have obtained the assent of the Roman nobles to his act,9 the ancient rights of the Roman Senate fell into the background, and the conferring of the imperial crown became a "privilege" of the Apostolic See, which claimed the right to "elect" and "ordain" the emperor.

Hastening over the St. Bernard pass, Charles the Bald met the papal embassy in the valley of Aosta, and prepared to accompany it to Rome. There, two factions had been formed, for the Empress had favored Lewis the German, and through her influence the Emperor had bequeathed his Italian estates to Lewis' son Carloman. Upon the German party, and particularly upon Lewis the German himself, the news of the papal decision fell like a thunderbolt. The German king felt that he had been deceived and cheated, for he had trusted to the power and influence of the Empress, and had never suspected the papal intentions. When, at last, the veil was suddenly lifted and the intrigues of Charles were revealed, Lewis the German was seized with anger as profound as his illusion had been complete. Abandoning all thought of diplomatic action, he appealed to force. By a double military movement, he now sought to arrest the progress of Charles toward Rome. In Italy, Charles the Fat was soon forced to retreat, and Carloman was frustrated by the proposal to refer the question of his rights to arbitration; but in France, Lewis the German spent Christmas day in the palace of Charles at Attigny, while Charles himself received from John VIII the imperial crown in St. Peter's Church at Rome; but not as his grandfather had received it from the hand of Leo III, seventy-five years before.

The bitter struggle which followed is of little importance to the future of Europe, but the relative attitude of the Empire and the Papacy has a large significance. When Leo III bestowed the imperial crown upon Charles the Great, it was in recognition of bis immense services to Christendom, which he had brought under the shadow of his sword, and his power to protect the Papacy, to which he had secured liberty in Italy; but when John VIII conferred imperial honors on Charles the Bald, it was the transfer of an empty title to a contestant for the crown who could not save the Roman territory from the Saracens, while his own palace in France was in the hands of his rival Lewis II, though in fact little more than an Italian king, had held the great dukes in abeyance, and had almost driven the invader from the land. His death revealed the weakness of the Empire and the vigor of the Papacy; for while Charles the Bald was contending with his brother for the possession of his own kingdom, John VIII, with an energy and ability which make him comparable to Gregory the Great, animated the Italian magnates and organized a navy for the defence of Italy. But with all his genius for war and diplomacy, the great pontiff could not stay the tide of anarchy which was now sweeping over Europe and bursting forth with new fury in Italy itself.

The death of Lewis the German, on August 28, 876, opened a new question, which was, at recurrent intervals, to disturb the peace of Europe for many centuries. Resolved to claim, as emperor and as heir of his nephew Lewis II, not only all of Italy, but also the right to Lotharingia, Charles the Bald, accompanied by the papal legates, advanced toward the Rhine, with the intention of seizing three strategic points, - Mainz, Worms, and Speyer, - thus making the Rhine the frontier of France. It was the first assertion of that doctrine of "natural limits" which has never ceased to influence the foreign policy of the French.

Lewis the Younger advanced to meet the invader, but proposed a pacific settlement of his uncle's claim. Determined to fix his frontier by conquest, Charles led his army by a long detour to Andernach, where he expected to surprise his nephew; but Lewis was secretly warned of his intention, and, on October 8, 876, inflicted upon the exhausted troops of Charles a terrible defeat.

Rendered ill by his inconsequent campaign, Charles the Bald never fully recovered from this fatal blow. Urged by the Pope to come to his help against the Saracens, he disclosed his weakness by purchasing peace from the Norman invaders, for which he imposed upon his people a special tax, and by extensive concessions to his nobles, to whom he promised in the Capitulary of Quierzy of June 14, 877, that their benefices should be conditionally hereditary in their families.

Having thus bargained for his freedom to perform his duty as emperor, Charles crossed the Alps with the intention of undertaking the defence of Italy, but only to be confronted by his nephew, Carloman, who had appeared with a large army to vindicate his rights to his inheritance. Unable to withstand his opponent, the Emperor started to recross the Alps when he learned that his nobles, notwithstanding his generous concessions, were in open rebellion. Discontented with the despotic manners which Charles had assumed since his coronation as emperor, and with his neglect of the public needs of France terrorized by the Norman invaders, his people, not unjustly, regarded him as delinquent in abandoning his kingdom for the defence of Italy. The unhappy Emperor now felt with crushing force the vanity of his empty honors. Repudiated by a powerful party in Italy, unable to face the army of Carloman, disavowed in his own household even by his brother-in-law Boso and his son Louis, and coldly regarded even by his once devoted Hincmar, ill in body and distracted in mind, Charles sank on his journey beneath the weight of his misfortunes, and died on October 6, less than two years after his coronation. His son, Louis the Stammerer, who succeeded him as King of France, realizing the impossibility of ruling both France and Italy in that time of general turbulence, had the good sense to decline the pursuit of the imperial phantom, and to devote his energies to the defence of his kingdom from the Danes.

It was in the midst of this great crisis of invasion that the final blight fell upon the Carlovingian dynasty. Louis the Stammerer survived his father only two years, and his young sons soon followed him, leaving only his posthumous child, Charles the Simple. Carloman, dying in 880, had no descendant, except his natural son Arnulf. Crowned Emperor at Rome, on February 12, 881, Charles the Fat finally claimed possession of all the kingdoms. Reuniting in his person all the dominions of Charles the Great, Christendom looked to him for a champion, and the Empire for a defender; but, though earnestly besought to drive the Saracens out of Italy and the Danes out of Germany and France, Charles preferred to purchase the withdrawal of the Vikings by payments of silver. Finding invasion a profitable industry, they repeated their incursions, until the Emperor offered to establish the Danish chief Godfred in a duchy at the mouths of the Rhine. Having thus obtained a foothold, the insolent vassal soon demanded the possession of Bonn and Coblenz, because his duchy had no vineyards; and other Danes harried France to the gates of Paris, which escaped destruction only by the valor of Count Eudes. Charles the Fat finally attempted to raise an army, but abandoned his campaign, resumed his futile negotiations, offered new bribes to the Danes, and permitted them to ravage Burgundy.

This last transaction exhausted the patience of the Empire. Arnulf, the illegitimate nephew of Charles the Fat, placing himself at the head of a revolt, in 887, threatened to march to Frankfort and depose his unwieldy uncle. Unable to rally an army for his defence, the ponderous Charles yielded his crown to Arnulf, demanding only a modest retreat in Suabia in which to pass the remainder of his days; and a few months later, on January 13, 888, the unhappy monarch ended his unprofitable life.

By the abdication of Charles the Fat the unity of the Carlovingian Empire was once more lost, this time never to be restored. The entire period between 888 and 919 was marked by strife, division, and unfruitfulness. Arnulf assumed the kingship of Germany,and the dukes and counts of that kingdom, recognizing his vigor and ability, rallied about him; but in other parts of the Empire ambitious nobles stepped forward to claim authority and repel his imperial pretensions. Eudes, Count of Paris, who had saved that city from the Danes, though he possessed no hereditary claim, was crowned King of France; Berengar, Duke of Friuli, was made King of Italy; Rudolf, a local count, became King of Upper Burgundy; while the kingdom of Arles, or Lower Burgundy, fell to Lewis, son of Duke Boso, who had married the only daughter of the Emperor Lewis II. Thus, the Carlovingian Empire fell into five fragments, never again to be united.




1. That the alleged "Donation of Constantine" is a forgery of the Middle Ages has long been known and is now universally admitted, but the date of its composition has been the subject of many theories and much discussion. Brenner has fixed the date between 813 and 816 and connected its fabrication with the coronation of Lewis the Pious. See his article in Berliner Festgabe für R. von Gneist, pp. 1-35 and his Die Constantinische Schenkungsurkunde, Berlin, 1888. Hauck, on philological grounds, has fixed the date in the pontificate of Stephen II, before 757. See Luthardt's Zeitshrift für kirchliche Wissenschaft und kirchliches Leben, 1888, pp. 201-207. The question has been elaborately discussed by Scheffer-Boichorst, - Mittheilunger für österreichische Geschichtsforschung, Bd. X, pp. 302, 325, and Bd. XI, pp. 128-146, - who fixes the date in the pontificate of Paul I, that is, between 757 and 767. The arguments of Scheffer-Boichorat are chiefly philological, and it is probable that the last word on this subject has not yet been spoken. Whatever the true date of the composition may be, the coronation of Lewis the Pious by Stephen IV is the first occasion when the forgery is directly connected in contemporary writings with a public act.

2. See the English translation of the text In Henderson, Select Documents, pp. 319, 329.

3. The text of the "Oath of Strasburg" is found in Dumont Corps diplomatique, I, Part I, p. 9. The oath of Lewis begins: "Pro deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament," etc.; that of Charles: "In godes minna ind in thes christianes folches ind unser bedhero gehaltnissi," etc.

4. The text of the treaty of Verdun does Dot exiat, but the substance of it is contained in the Annales Fuldenses. See Richter, Annalen, zweite Hälfte
, II Abtheilung, p. 325.

5. The text of the Partition of Mersen is found in Dumont, I, Part 1, p. 16 et seq.

6. For the letter of Adrian II promising the Empire to Charles the Bald, see Jaffé, Regesta, No. 2951 and No. 3039.

7. A translation of the "Ordinatio of 817" is found in Henderson, Select Documents, pp. 201, 206.

8. The authenticity of the letter of Lewis II to the Emperor Basil is generally accepted, and has been explicitly defended by Dümmler, Geschichte des östfrankischen Reiches, Leipzig, 1887-1888, vol.II, p. 267, note 3, and by Böhmer-Mühlbacher, Die Regesten des Kaiserreichs unter den Karolingern, Innsbruck, 1889, No. 1213. It has, however, been called a fabrication by Kleinclausz, L'Empire carolingien, Paris, 1902, pp. 441-487. He believes it to have been composed about the middle of the year 879 by the librarian Anastasius.

9. For the consultation of the "Senate" by John VIII, see Jaffé, Regesta, No. 3019; and for the reply, No. 3039.

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