SEMINAR VI: Louis the Pious and the 'Field of Lies' (Lent, Week 2)

The reign of Louis the Pious was marked by a series of crises. The most serious of these came in 830 and 833 when his three sons by his first wife, Ermengard, rebelled in a series of attempts to depose their father; but there was also an important earlier crisis in 818 when Bernard of Italy (the illegitimate son of Louis the Pious's older brother, Pippin), rebelled with the support of numerous nobles. Each of these rebellions followed an alteration in the established arrangements for the succession. Bernard of Italy's rebellion came after the issuing of the so-called Ordinatio imperii or 'Ordering of the Empire', a plan for a threefold partition of the Empire and its kingdoms from which arrangements he had been excluded; the rebellions of the 830s followed Louis's attempt to revise the partition of 817 so as to include Charles the Bald, his son by second wife, Judith. Louis gave Charles Alemannia (a region previously assigned to his eldest son, Lothar) at Worms in 829.

Disputes over the succession were nothing new in Frankish history, but these disputes have often been thought especially significant, in large part because they thwarted Louis's attempt to give an enduring unity to the Carolingian Empire. Under the terms of the Ordinatio Imperii his eldest son, Lothar, was to be the holder of the imperial title and the supreme ruler of the Franks whilst his younger brothers were to be 'sub-kings' ruling under his supervision. The failure of this scheme looks like a set back on the path to the'modern state', but it is a moot point whether the Ordinatio Imperii was a sensible scheme in the first place.

Mandatory Preparation

Students are asked to read a series of documents that bear directly on these events:

  1. Extracts from the Royal Frankish Annals, for the years 817-819, which help to establish the context in which Louis the Pious made some of the key decisions of his reign.
  2. The Ordinatio Imperii of 817.
  3. The Vision of the Poor Woman of Laon, a document which illustrates a type of political rhetoric which seems to have flourished during Louis's reign.
  4. Extracts from the Royal Frankish Annals, for 821-22, detailing his mercy towards the supporters of Bernard of Italy and his public penance at Attigny.
  5. Extracts from the Astronomer's Life of Louis the Pious – that is, his account of the Rebellions of 830 and 833, an account which offers a sympathetic portrayal of Louis as a wronged father.
  6. The report of Compiègne by the bishops of the realm concerning the penance of Emperor Louis (833).

And to come prepared with answers to the following discussion questions:

  1. What were the major innovations of the Ordinatio Imperii of 817? What was Louis the Pious trying to achieve by arranging the succession in this way?
  2. Who were the winners and losers under this scheme? Or why did Bernard of Italy rebel against his uncle in 818? Why did such a large section of the nobility join him in this rebellion?
  3. Why was the author of the Vision of the Poor Woman of Laon so adamant about the sinfulness of Louis's treatment of Bernard of Italy? How did he mistreat him?
  4. Why were texts like the Vision of the Poor Woman of Laon produced in such abundance during the reign of Louis the Pious? What does the use of vision-literature in politics say about the nature of the times?
  5. Why did Louis perform public penance in 822? Did this act of piety weaken or strengthen his authority?
  6. Louis is often said in the documents to have treated those who rebelled against him leniently. Were these acts of mercy a strength or a weakness?
  7. Why did Louis the Pious's sons, Lothar, Pepin of Aquitaine, and Louis the German, rebel against him in 830 and 833? What did they hope to achieve by these rebellions? Why did their rebellions fail in the end? What does their failure say about the nature of the Carolingian regime?
  8. What were the lies of the 'Field of Lies' (24 June 833)? As the name implies, this confrontation was an event of great notoriety. What and how much significance should we attach to it? Was it a real turning point in the history of the Carolingian Empire?
  9. In what ways did the politics of the succession during the reign of Louis the Pious differ from that found in earlier phases of Frankish history?

The extracts may be downloaded from the Hist213 LUVLE site.

Reading Strongly Recommended for All Students

  1. McKitterick, R., The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (London, 1983), chp. 5, 'Louis the Pious and the Christian Empire'. MSD.*

Further Reading on Louis the Pious and the Christian Empire

  • de Jong, M., 'Bride Shows Revisited: Praise, Slander and Exegesis in the Reign of the Empress Judith', in L. Brubaker and J. M. H. Smith (eds), Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300-900 (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 257-77. MBD.H.
  • de Jong, M., 'Power and Humility in Carolingian Society: The Public Penance of Louis the Pious', Early Medieval Europe, 1 (1992), 29-52.
  • de Jong, M., The Penitential State: Authority and Atonement in the Age of Louis the Pious, 814–840 (Cambridge, 2009). MSDC.K. Utterly fundamental!
  • Fichtenau, H., The Carolingian Empire, trs. P. Munz (Oxford, 1957). MSDC.
  • Folz, R., The Concept of Empire in Western Europe from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century (London, 1969). MB. There are 2 copies on long loan, one on short loan.
  • Ganshof, F. L., Frankish Institutions under Charlemagne, trs. B. and M. Lyon (Providence, RI, 1968). MSDC.
  • Godman, P., and R. Collins (ed.), Charlemagne's Heir, New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990). Some of the key articles in this volume are in German, but it contains much else in English which is useful for this topic. MSDC7.
  • Halphen, L., Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire, trs. G. de Nie (Amsterdam, 1977). MSDC.*
  • James, E., The Origins of France (London, 1982), chp. 7. MSB.*
  • McCormick, M., P. E. Dutton and P. A. Mayewski, 'Volcanoes and the Climate Forcing of Carolingian Europe, A.D. 750-950', Speculum, 82 (2007), 865-95 (esp. pp. 881-4 and 892). Journals L6. Links Louis the Pious’s penance of August 822 to the ‘climate-forced’ terrible winter of 821-22!
  • McKitterick, R., Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008), esp. chp. 3, 'The Royal Court', which has useful background material on high politics, and chp. 5, 'Correctio, Knowledge and Power', for the theocratic tendencies of the Carolingian state. MSDC.
  • Nelson, J. L., 'Kingship and Empire', in J. H. Burns (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c. 359-1450 (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 211-51. MBS. Another version of this article appears under the title, 'Kingship and Empire in the Carolingian World', in R. McKitterick (ed.), Carolingian Culture, Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 52-87. MSD.I. General background.
  • Nelson, J. L., 'The Last Years of Louis the Pious', in P. Godman and R. Collins (eds), Charlemagne's Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990), pp. 147-59. MSDC7. Rpt. in J. L. Nelson, The Frankish World, 750-900 (London, 1996), pp. 37-50. MSD.
  • Noble, T. F. X., 'Secular Sanctity: Forging an Ethos for the Carolingian Nobility', in P. Wormald and J. L. Nelson (eds), Learned Laity in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 8—36. MSD.I. Important.
  • Reuter, T., 'Plunder and Tribute in the Carolingian Empire', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 35 (1985), 75-94. Journals L6. Rpt in T. Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. J. L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 231-50. MB.
  • Reuter, T., 'The End of Carolingian Military Expansion', in P. Godman and P. Collins (ed.), Charlemagne's Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990), pp. 391-405. MSDC7. Rpt in T. Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. J. L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 251-67. MB.
  • Screen, E., 'The Importance of the Emperor: Lothar I and the Frankish Civil War, 840-843', Early Medieval Europe, 12 (2003), 25-51. Online at Academic Search Premier.
  • Sears, E., 'Louis the Pious as Miles Christi: The Dedicatory Image in Hrabanus Maurus's De laudibus sanctae Crucis [In praise of the Holy Cross]', in P. Godman and R. Collins (eds.), Charlemagne's Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990), pp. 605-28. MSDC7.
  • Ullmann, W., The Carolingian Renaissance and the Idea of Kingship (London, 1969). MSDC.
  • Ullmann, W., The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (3rd edn, London, 1970). MEB.
  • Ward, E., 'Agobard of Lyons and Paschasius Radbertus as Critics of the Empress Judith', in W. J. Sheils and D. Wood (eds), Women and the Church, Studies in Church History 27 (Oxford, 1990), pp. 15-25. PO7.
  • Ward, E., 'The Career of the Empress Judith, 819-829', in P. Godman and R. Collins (eds), Charlemagne's Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990), pp. 205-27. MSDC7.

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