Stories from German History - Florence Aston

The Division of the Holy Roman Empire

The successors of the great Emperor Charlemagne were very inferior to him in all the qualities that make a great ruler. The Holy Roman Empire was at that period so large and the people so barbarous that it took a very strong hand to maintain any show of order, and a man of Charlie's genius to make any real progress. So his son Louis the Pious found the throne no bed of roses, for though he might have ruled a small realm with success, his father's unwieldy empire was far too much for his powers. Chiefs and leaders of the people, who had been sternly repressed and kept in check by the strong hand of Charlemagne, now bestirred themselves; old feuds were revived and more and more audacious raids and marauding expeditions undertaken, which evaded all Louis's weak efforts at pursuit, and reduced him to despair. His impotency was the subject of common gossip in the land.

Wise counsellors had recommended Louis's nephew Bernard as a more suitable candidate for the throne, and this had angered Louis, who, in a mood of irritation, caused Bernard's eyes to be put out with such barbarity that he died three days later.

But, as the surname which he earned shows, Louis was not altogether a bad man, and his cruel deed preyed upon his mind. He very soon realized, too, his deficiencies as a ruler, and after three years' weary struggle with refractory subjects, Louis announced that he meant to abdicate and divide his realm among his three sons. The three sons were called Lothair, Pippin and Louis, and according to the will of their father, Lothair, as the eldest, was to inherit the title of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, together with Italy and the land along the Rhine as far as the sea; Pippin was to receive the country which we now call France, and Louis the territory which approximately corresponds to modern Germany.

But another power intervened. The Pope and clergy were only too pleased to have a weak emperor, since they themselves gained all the more power thereby, and when Louis told them that he was going to retire into a monastery they were very angry indeed and determined to prevent it. They told him that he was trying to evade responsibilities laid on his shoulders by God Himself, which surely was an impious deed, and so frightened the weak, superstitious Louis that he was soon convinced that he had sinned greatly. So he grasped the reins of government once more with trembling hands, and conciliated the clergy by doing open penance before the Diet of the Empire for his cruel deed in causing the death of his nephew Bernard.

After the death of his wife Irmingard, Louis married again, his choice falling upon Judith, the daughter of Count W elf of Bavaria. She was a beautiful and gifted woman, but imperious and revengeful, and the birth of her son Charles, afterward known as Charles the Bald, changed her into a clever intriguer whose sole aim was the elevation of her child to a throne equal to that of his step-brothers. This desire led her into intricate paths, and years of scheming were necessary before Queen Judith was able to supplant her husband's advisers by supporters of her own and her son's interests.

At last, when Charles was sixteen years old, a re-distribution of the realm was proposed, whereupon Louis's three elder sons at once threw off their allegiance and made war upon their father.

The old advisers were recalled and reinstated; and made the most of their opportunities by blackening the character of the Queen, insinuating that she did not love her husband, and surrounding the King with monks and priests of the most bigoted type, who terrified him and reduced the already gloomy man to a state of settled melancholia.

When Lothair arrived from Italy, bringing the Pope with him, the three brothers advanced against their father, and met him, in the year 888, on the plain of Colmar. As the hosts stood facing each other, the Holy Father placed himself between them and solemnly blessed the armies.

But no one came forward to welcome him and the blessing was received but coldly, until he explained that he came in the cause of peace and justice and desired only reconciliation between father and sons.

The immediate result of the Holy Father's eloquence was the desertion of Louis's main body of troops, for they marched over to his sons during the night, and the next day the hapless old man found himself supported by a mere handful of nobles.

"Go ye also over to my sons," exclaimed the kindly old King; "for God forbid that one of you should lose life or limb for me."

The nobles wept with pity for his distress, but they went nevertheless, and Louis fell into the hands of his sons, and with his wife and her child rode into their camp. They received him with respect, separated him from Queen Judith, who was banished to Italy, and also from his youngest son, Charles, whom they immured in a cloister.

Pippin 'and the younger Louis then returned to their kingdoms, but Lothair was not content. He therefore conveyed his father to Soissons, and, lodging him there in the monastery of Saint Medardus, he summoned a council of bishops and abbots, who compelled the unhappy King to do penance for his sins.

After some hesitation he allowed himself to be led into the church, where he laid his armour and royal mantle on the altar, lay down on a bed of sackcloth, and read a long recital of his 'sins.' He had dishonoured the kingly office, blasphemed God, offended the Church. He was a stirrer up of strife, who had dared to make war on his own sons i Completely humiliated as he was before the large congregation assembled in the church, the miserable old man was then invested with the penitent's robe, and the Archbishop of Rheims, whom he had himself raised from a very humble station, laid his hand on his head, and, with thirty other bishops, chanted the penitential psalms over this miserable sinner i

And all the while Lothair sat in his chair of state, feasting his eyes upon the spectacle of his own father's shame.

But threats and persuasion alike failed to force the old King to take the monastic vows, and when Pippin and Louis heard of the indignities that had been heaped upon their father, they returned in great wrath, for it was by no means their wish that he should be deprived of the imperial throne. Lothair was compelled to liberate his royal captive, and only received pardon on condition that he retreated at once to Italy and never left that country without asking permission; after which Louis the Pious was reinstated on his throne, with Judith at his aide. His first act was to propose a new division of the realm, excluding Lothair altogether and including the young Charles instead, but this arrangement was destined to failure, since Pippin died shortly after it was made.

Queen Judith then formed an alliance with Lothair, proposing to divide the land between him and her son, to the exclusion of the younger Louis, who of all his sons had perhaps been the most faithful to his father.

Lothair hastened to throw himself at the old King's feet, exclaiming, with tears, and in the words of the Bible: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee and am no more worthy to be called thy son." He declared that he had come, not to claim a throne, but to beg for mercy and pardon for his sins. Louis embraced him tenderly, assured him of his forgiveness, and divided the kingdom between Lothair and Charles.

Louis the younger was naturally indignant, since he who had been the most filial had been treated worst of all, and a bloody battle would have ensued between father and son, on the banks of the Rhine, had not the old King been taken so seriously ill that it became apparent to all that the end was near. He was borne to the island of Ingelheim, where a tent was hastily erected for his protection. Priests were summoned, among whom was his half-brother Drogo, who conjured him not to leave the world in anger against his son. "Since Louis cannot come to me," murmured the old King wearily, as he lay upon his couch, "I will do my duty toward him. I call you and God to witness that I freely forgive him, but your duty it is to announce to him that his conduct brings my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave."

Louis the Pious ended his life of misery and unrest on the 20th June, 840, in the sixty-third year of his age and the twenty-seventh of his reign. He was laid by the side of his mother in the cathedral at Mayence.