- Identify the reasons for the fall of the Carolingian Dynasty
- The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century, which saw its reached its peak with the crowning of Charlemagne as the Roman emperor in 800.
- Charlemagne’s death in 814 began an extended period of fragmentation and decline of the dynasty that would eventually lead to the evolution of the territories of France and Germany.
- Following the death of Louis the Pious (Charlemagne’s son), the surviving adult Carolingians fought a three-year civil war ending only in the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the territory into three separate regions and began the breakup of the empire.
- The Carolingians were displaced in most of the regna of the empire in 888, but ruled in East Francia until 911 and held the throne of West Francia intermittently until 987.
- One chronicler dates the end of Carolingian rule with the coronation of Robert II of France as junior co-ruler with his father, Hugh Capet, thus beginning the Capetian dynasty, descendants of which unified France.
- The Carolingian dynasty became extinct in the male line with the death of Eudes, Count of Vermandois. His sister Adelaide, the last Carolingian, died in 1122.
Territorial regions of independent rule.
Refers to topics concerning or in the time of Charlemagne and his heirs.
The territory inhabited and ruled by the Franks, a confederation of West Germanic tribes, during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
The Carolingian dynasty began with Charlemagne’s grandfather Charles Martel, but began its official reign with Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short, displacing the Merovingian dynasty. The dynasty reached its peak with the crowning of Charlemagne as the first emperor in the west in over three centuries. Charlemagne’s death in 814 began an extended period of fragmentation and decline that would eventually lead to the evolution of the territories of France and Germany.
In 813, Charlemagne called Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine and his only surviving legitimate son, to his court. There Charlemagne crowned his son with his own hands as co-emperor and sent him back to Aquitaine. He then spent the autumn hunting before returning to Aachen on November 1. In January, he fell ill with pleurisy. He took to his bed on January 21 and as Einhard tells it:
He died January twenty-eighth, the seventh day from the time that he took to his bed, at nine o’clock in the morning, after partaking of the Holy Communion, in the seventy-second year of his age and the forty-seventh of his reign.
He had a testament of 811, not updated prior to his death, that allocated his assets. He was succeeded by his son, Louis, but his empire lasted only another generation in its entirety; its division, according to custom, between Louis’s own sons after their father’s death laid the foundation for the modern states of Germany and France.
The Carolingian Dynasty and Its Decline
Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III at Rome in 800, was the greatest Carolingian monarch. His empire, ostensibly a continuation of the Roman Empire, is referred to historiographically as the Carolingian Empire. The traditional Frankish (and Merovingian) practice of dividing inheritances among heirs was not given up by the Carolingian emperors, though the concept of the indivisibility of the Empire was also accepted. The Carolingians had the practice of making their sons minor kings in the various regions (regna) of the Empire, which they would inherit on the death of their father.
Following the death of Louis the Pious (Charlemagne’s son), the surviving adult Carolingians fought a three-year civil war ending only in the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the empire into three regna while according imperial status and a nominal lordship to Lothair I. By this treaty, Lothair received northern Italy and a long stretch of territory from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, essentially along the valleys of the Rhine and the Rhône; this territory includes the regions of Lorraine, Alsace, Burgundy, and Provence. He soon ceded Italy to his eldest son, Louis, and remained in his new kingdom, engaging in alternate quarrels and reconciliations with his brothers and in futile efforts to defend his lands from the attacks of the Northmen (as Vikings were known in Frankish writings) and the Saracens.
The Carolingians differed markedly from the Merovingians in that they disallowed inheritance to illegitimate offspring, possibly in an effort to prevent infighting among heirs and assure a limit to the division of the realm. In the late 9th century, however, the lack of suitable adults among the Carolingians necessitated the rise of Arnulf of Carinthia, an illegitimate child of a legitimate Carolingian king.
The Carolingians were displaced in most of the regna of the Empire in 888. They ruled on in East Francia until 911 and held the throne of West Francia intermittently until 987. Carolingian cadet branches continued to rule in Vermandois and Lower Lorraine after the last king died in 987, but they never sought thrones of principalities, and they made peace with the new ruling families. One chronicler dates the end of Carolingian rule with the coronation of Robert II of France as junior co-ruler with his father, Hugh Capet, thus beginning the Capetian dynasty. Capet’s descendants—the Capetians, the House of Valois, and the House of Bourbon—progressively unified the country through wars and dynastic inheritance into the Kingdom of France, which was fully declared in 1190 by Philip II Augustus. Thus West Francia of the Carolingian dynasty became France.
Following the breakup of the Frankish Realm, the history of Germany was for 900 years intertwined with the history of the Holy Roman Empire, which subsequently emerged from the eastern portion of Charlemagne’s original empire. The territory initially known as East Francia stretched from the Rhine in the west to the Elbe River in the east, and from the North Sea to the Alps. Germany as we know it today did not come into existence until after WWI when the various principalities of the region were united as a modern nation-state.
The Carolingian dynasty became extinct in the male line with the death of Eudes, Count of Vermandois. His sister Adelaide, the last Carolingian, died in 1122.