The king’s daughter and the emperor’s son

Charlemagne’s relationship with his daughters has raised eyebrows for twelve centuries. In Einhard’s famous phrasing, “[H]e kept them close beside him at home until his death, saying that he could not stand to be parted from their company.”1.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, ch.19, in Charlemagne’s Courtier, ed. Paul Dutton, p.29. Einhard has other highly interesting things to say about Charlemagne’s daughters and their relationship with their father, and we will explore that in another post. But at least once he considered letting a daughter go, when the mighty Byzantine Empire proposed joining families. That would be enough to make the most protective father think twice about keeping his daughter at home.

Charles was a man who enjoyed life’s pleasures, and a woman’s comfort not the least of them. His wives and concubines produced eighteen children (or more), a fact which caused some concern with at least one poet.2.McKitterick notes that Wetti of Richenau includes Charlemagne in his vision of hell, with a beast chewing on his genitals. Charlemagne: Formation of a European Identity, p.91. His first daughter with his second wife Hildegard was named Rotrude, who was born in 775. Being a daughter of a king, her usual duty and fate would have been to serve as a bridge between great families. Her chance came from an unexpected quarter in 781, when her father was in Rome.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, ch.19, in Charlemagne’s Courtier, ed. Paul Dutton, p.29.
2. McKitterick notes that Wetti of Richenau includes Charlemagne in his vision of hell, with a beast chewing on his genitals. Charlemagne: Formation of a European Identity, p.91.

Franks and Byzantines, but not Charlemagne

After last week’s overview of the Byzantine empire, let’s now look at what the Byzantines meant to the Franks and the rest of western Europe. Strictly for the sake of convenience, we’ll take it up to 768, when Charlemagne ascended to the Frankish throne.

First, the obvious: this is the Dark Ages, and there’s not a lot of primary evidence. This is best exemplified by a scholar of the Carolingian economy: “Our information on goods imported through Venice or other Italian ports from the eastern Mediterranean into western Europe in the Carolingian period is nearly non-existent.”1.Verhulst, Carolingian Economy, p.107. Nice. But we do have some records to review.

Italy was the nexus between east and west, as it had been in the heyday of the Roman empire. Most of what we know is through the context of theology and relations between Rome and Constantinople. During the “Twenty Years of Anarchy” through which the eastern empire suffered in the first decade of the eighth century there was little of note going on between Greece and Italy. Once the empire stabilized, the papacy was alarmed to the see emerge the first dictates of the Iconoclast Controversy. Along with Charlemagne and the Battle of Poitiers, this is a subject about which even non-specialists may have heard.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Verhulst, Carolingian Economy, p.107.