Charlemagne's women

Charlemagne's women

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What does the name of Charlemagne in everyone's memory? The famous coronation that made him emperor of the West in the year 800, but what is less known is that without the women who have passed through his life, he might never have occupied such an important position. He might have remained a simple king of the Franks like his father Pépin le Brief, if his big-footed mother Berthe, charming and ambitious person, had not dreamed of another destiny for him.

Charlemagne and women

Fortunately, Charlemagne could not do without female company. He had five wives, even six, and several official concubines who all contributed more or less to making him this very daring, diplomatic and cultivated man of whom historians tell us. All in fact exerted an influence on its policy, its ideas, its customs, its military decisions, the conduct of its finances ... They made it undertake by their diplomacy and other feminine charms astonishing exploits. This is to say if the women are clever!

Here we must rectify the false clichés that embellish history about the Charlemagne physics : no flowering beard (flori in Latin means bright) according to the biographer Eginhart "the life of Emperor Charles the great". He was very tall, 1m 90, with a round face, lively and clever eyes, a large nose, a thick and long mustache in Frankish fashion and his hair cut to the bowl but again no beard. He was a great hunter, a very good swimmer, in short an athlete made for life in the great outdoors. One could have attributed to such a constitution a strong thunderous voice but it would have had a thin timbre. However, he appealed to women very much and his love life alone could have been the subject of a novel!

Charlemagne's wives and concubines

At the age of 18 he married Himiltrude in 767, a pretty virtuous and self-effacing person who helped her to get rid of her awkwardness put up with some difficulty the ardor of her husband. She will give him two children including Pépin the hunchback but will be repudiated in 769 for the benefit of a more flattering marriage prepared by his mother with a princess of Lombardy, Désirée, whom he married in 770 for political reasons or love n ' had no part, Desiree being, despite a promising name without dull and ugly charm. Charles will hasten to repudiate her on the grounds of sterility and send her back to her father in Pavia with its retinue and effects.

It was then that he met a thirteen-year-old Swabian, the graceful Hildegarde of Vintzgau, whose charm and beauty will dazzle him. He will marry her in 772, conscious of having finally found the dream companion: fine, cheerful, ardent and vigorous. He who was still suspicious, embarrassed and timid in his decisions will be completely transformed by this lively young woman who will play a big part in his life (if not the biggest one). When he organizes his 1e expedition against the Saxons, Hidegarde, whom he could not do without, followed him throughout his campaign, promulgating him wisdom and love. B. Bull cites in Charlemagne and his court "The touching simplicity of Hildegard and the pleasantness of her commerce corrected that savage vivacity which makes good soldiers but cannot make good kings."

For years in uncomfortable ox-drawn wagons the young queen rode with her husband the ill-defined paths of an emerging empire. It must be said that Charlemagne used to have his whole family followed wherever he went: women, child servants, everyone was on the trip. This did not prevent Hildegarde from giving nine children to her dear husband: four sons Charles, Pépin, Louis (future Louis the Pious), Lothaire his twin and five daughters: Adélaide, Rotrude, Berthe, Gisèle and Hildegarde. But Charlemagne's wives and concubines weren't content to just spin the wool by the fireside! They were in charge of the administration of the house and the estates of the state. They managed the economic affairs and royal spending. These were great responsibilities, some of which were carried out successfully. After eleven years of this grueling life, Hildegarde, also exhausted by her pregnancies, died at the age of 24 in 783, giving birth to the little girl who was to bear her name. All mourned the people as much as the desperate king.

Some time later he nevertheless married the daughter of a proud and beautiful count Fastrad his fourth wife. Unlike Hildegard, she must have had a deplorable influence on Charles: fundamentally wicked, envious, cruel, she constantly urged him to punish and persecute all those who were unfortunate enough to displease him. Any pretext was good for him to practice his devious schemes. She ordered sanctions, torture and mass executions. Out of weakness in the face of this intractable woman who was the only one not to follow him on his expeditions, Charlemagne made mistakes that his enemies took advantage of. A plot was formed led by his own son Pepin the Hunchback to suppress Charles and Fastrad.

This plot failed very little, all the conspirators were put to death. As for Pepin, he was shaved (which was an infamous sign at the time) and thrown into a convent for the rest of his life despite Fastrad calling for his death. Charlemagne might have opened his eyes to his wife's actions, but she had the good idea to pass away! She had had time in ten years to give him two daughters and do a lot of damage.

The angel and the demon

These two wives, opposite to each other, marked their time each in their own way: one knew how to make herself loved for her calm, her warmth, her kindness, the other was hated and feared for her pride, her coldness and his very Merovingian extreme cruelty.

As soon as he got rid of this shrew, the king looked for a more restful companion. He found her in the person of Liutgard of Arémanie, a beautiful 18 year old girl with long blonde braids whose softness had seduced him. He married her in 794, and found a new youth with her. It must be said that at 59, he was endowed with a great presence, and passed for the most handsome man of his time, so much so that Liutgard was very much in love with him.

During these years of conjugal happiness, the events that were to lead him to the ceremony of the coronation of Rome followed one another. The ace ! He could not share this extraordinary moment with his beautiful wife because she died without descendants shortly before. Ironically, this man who could not live without a woman was alone without a wife in the day of his greatest glory! From that moment, Charlemagne, at the height of power, had no more than many concubines : the term "concubine" in ancient texts could mean that these were perhaps in fact wives.

In Roman antiquity and until the Carolingians, a concubine was named a legitimate wife from the point of view of civil and religious laws, imperial law and canon law, but who was not of equal birth. It could be a noble daughter, but if a king's son married a woman who was not a king's daughter, that same noble woman was called a concubine. Maldegard was therefore Charlemagne's concubine followed by Gersvind who was very effective in the functions of manager and also followed his companion to war and to the hunting of the wild bull. She was the only one to carry the title of Empress.

All his life, this vigorous man Charlemagne had displayed an unusual virility, but he became with age one real bawdy. He could not see a woman without indulging in shameless extravagance on her! He had two more concubines: Regina and Adelind. It is impossible to count all those who crossed his path, nor the exact number of children from his libertine habits!

Berthe at the big foot Hadn't been mistaken when she had the foreknowledge of a great destiny for her son, but she wouldn't have assumed it would reach that magnitude. When he died in 814 at the age of 72, many women had to mourn him.

Non-exhaustive bibliography

- Charlemagne by Georges Minois, Edtions Perrin 2010.

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