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Örjan Martinsson

The Dissolution of the Frankish Empire

= West Francia (Charles the Bald)   =Middle Francia (Lothair I)   = East Francia (Louis the German)   = Loosely held territories

Apart from a successful insurrection by the Basques, attacks from Vikings and Arabs, and that Benevento definitely had slipped out of Frankish control, the Empire of Charlemagne was still intact until 843. South of Bavaria direct rule over the Slavic principality of Karantania had been introduced in 828. Charlemagne himself had intended to divide his empire between his sons but only one of them, Louis the Pious, was alive when he died 814. Louis the Pious inherited the entire empire except Italy which was ruled by his nephew Bernhard, but Louis defeated him in 818. Unlike his father, Louis wanted to preserve the unity of the Frankish Empire. His younger sons were given kingdoms of their own, but they had to acknowledge their elder brother Lothair’s overlordship as Roman emperor. These vassal kingdoms were Aquitaine (Pepin) and Bavaria (Louis the German), both of them created in 817. A third kingdom (Swabia) was created in 829 to the youngest son Charles the Bald. The arrangement with the younger brothers having to be vassals to the eldest brother was a clear break against the Frankish tradition and civil war between the three surviving brothers broke out when Louis the Pious died in 840. The civil war resulted in the treaty of Verdun in which the Frankish empire was divided into three parts, Lothair got the middle kingdom and kept the title of emperor but without overlordship over his brothers. Pepin had died in 838 and his son Pepin II fought in vain to hold on to his father's kingdom of Aquitaine. He was finally defeated in 852.

= West Francia   = Lotharingia   = Provence   = Italy   = East Francia   = Loosely held territories

Charles the Bald had in 846 been forced to recognise Brittany's independence. Lothair abdicated in 855 and entered a monastery where he died five days later. His kingdom of Middle Francia was divided between his three sons. The eldest son Louis II had already become king of Italy in 844, the younger sons Lothair II and Charles got Lotharingia and Provence respectively. The imperial title was linked to the kingdom of Italy. Charles died in 863 without sons and his kingdom of Provence was divided between his brothers.

= West Francia   = Italy   = East Francia   = Swabia   = Bavaria   = Loosely held territories

Lothair II died in 869 without sons and Charles the Bald of West Francia tried to annex his kingdom. That was however not accepted by East Francia’s king Louis the German who attacked Charles. The conflict was resolved with the treaty of Meersen 870 in which Lotharingia was divided between them. Louis II of Italy also died without sons in 875 and Charles the Bald quickly installed himself as emperor there. Louis the German died the following year and his kingdom was divided between his three sons Carloman (Bavaria), Charles the Fat (Swabia) and Louis the Younger (the rest of East Francia).

= West Francia   = East Francia   = Loosely held territories
= Charles' kingdom   = Carloman's kingdom   = Provence   = Neustria

After the death of Charles the Bald in 877 West Francia was inherited by his son Louis the Stammer. Italy however went to Carloman of Bavaria. The Byzantine empire reinstated its supremacy over Croatia the same year. That land had previously been a part of the Frankish kingdom although it in practise was an independent state. With the death of Louis already in 879, West Francia was plunged into a crisis. Louis’ two sons divided the kingdom between themselves but their legitimacy was disputed and count Boso was elected king in Provence by the local nobles. In Italy Charles the Fat replaced Carloman as king who died shortly afterwards. Louis the Younger of East Francia then inherited Bavaria. The conflict between East and West Francia was resolved in 880 with the treaty of Ribemont whereupon Louis the Younger also added the western part of Lotharingia to East Francia.

= West Francia   = East Francia   = Loosely held territories
= Charles' kingdom   = Italy   = Provence   = Juran kingdom

Additional early deaths occurred in 882 and 884 so that Charles the Fat inherited first East Francia and then West Francia. The kingdom of Provence had in 882 been forced to recognise Charles’s supremacy. This meant that the Frankish Empire had, just like many times before, been reunited. But the unity was to be short lived because the Empire was ravaged by attacks from Vikings and Charles was not suitable as a war leader. The German dukes deposed him in 887 and if he had not died 888 it is likely that he would have suffered the same fate in the other parts of the Empire. The Germans had elected his illegitimate nephew Arnulf of Carinthia as new king but the other parts of the Frankish Empire elected local nobles as their kings. In West Francia count Odo was made king thanks to his heroic defence of Paris against the Vikings a few years earlier. In Italy Berenger I was elected king and a son to Boso became king of Provence (Lower Burgundy).

= France   = Provence   = Juran kingdom   = Italy   = Germany   = Loosely held territories

The events of 887-888 meant the final dissolution of the Frankish Empire. Unlike previous divisions that had occurred as a result of inheritance, this one was the result of elections in the Frankish part kingdoms. It was no longer enough that collateral branches of the royal dynasty became extinct for the Frankish kingdom to be reunited, instead it was necessary that the local nobles in every kingdom elected the same king, and that was something they did not have any interest in doing. But the belief that the Frankish Empire still existed lived on because the Carolingian dynasty still ruled East Francia and from 898 also over West Francia. But when the last East Francian Carolingian died in 911 only Lotharingia followed the Frankish tradition and joined West Francia, the other four duchies elected a new king from their own rank. This event confirmed that the Frankish Empire was no more and that East Francia had been replaced by a German kingdom. East Francia had before that also been reduced in the east when the Hungarians conquered a large territory. Because West Francia was the only remaining part of the Carolingian empire, after 911 it became France.

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