Louis the German

Louis the German
(d. 876)
   Third son of Louis the Pious, who inherited the eastern portion of the Carolingian Empire on his father's death. A participant in the civil wars against his father, Louis the German also supported his father at key moments when his older brother, Lothar, seemed too harsh in his treatment of the elder Louis. After his father's death, Louis the German was involved in fratricidal warfare with Lothar and Charles the Bald that led to the fragmentation of the empire of Charlemagne. Although there was at least nominal cooperation between the brothers and nominal recognition of the imperial authority, the empire was essentially divided into three separate kingdoms ruled by Louis and his brothers.
   The kingdoms created by the sons of Louis the Pious established the outlines of later medieval and even modern France and Germany, and Louis the German himself set important precedents for later rulers of medieval Germany.
   Born probably in Aquitaine circa 804, Louis was raised to prominence in Louis the Pious's reorganization of the empire in 817. In that division of the realm, which made Lothar co-emperor and heir to the imperial throne, Louis was made king of Bavaria, the base of power for Louis that lasted throughout his entire life. In the 820s Louis served his father in his assigned region of Bavaria, but in the 830s, perhaps in response to his father's efforts to create a region in the kingdom for Charles the Bald, the son of his second wife, Louis took part in two rebellions against Louis the Pious. Indeed, Louis the German, with his brother Pippin, initiated the revolt of 830, intending to "liberate" his father from the pernicious influence of his stepmother Judith and his father's close advisor Bernard of Septimania. After the initial success of the revolt, Lothar took control of it and alienated his younger brothers. Louis the Pious, under house arrest, secretly sent messengers to Louis and Pippin, encouraging their support in exchange for greater territories in the empire. The younger Louis readily accepted, and his support for his father was essential to the collapse of the rebellion of 830.
   The empire continued to face turmoil over the next several years, and once again Louis the German took an active role in revolt against his father. In 833, Louis and his brothers Lothar and Pippin revolted against the elder Louis, deposing him and placing him, Judith, and Charles the Bald in monasteries. Lothar's bad treatment of his father, however, and his efforts to gain greater control of the empire angered Louis. As he had in 830, Louis the German played a key role in restoring his father to the imperial throne. His efforts were rewarded in 839 when, after the death of Pippin, Louis the Pious sought to restrict his son Louis to Bavaria and favored both Charles the Bald and the rehabilitated Lothar. The younger Louis quite naturally struggled to maintain his authority in the eastern part of the Carolingian Empire.
   On the death of Louis the Pious in 840, the difficult situation in the empire exploded into open civil war between his three surviving sons. Lothar sought to gain control of the entire empire, and his ambition drove his younger brothers Louis and Charles into an alliance against him. The two brothers formed an alliance in the spring of 841 and fought a terrible, bloody battle against Lothar at Fontenoy on June 25, 841. Louis and Charles triumphed over Lothar and remained firm in their alliance, despite Lothar's efforts to divide them. In the following year, Louis and Charles confirmed their alliance in the famed Oath of Strasbourg, which was sworn and recorded in early forms of the Romance and German languages. Lothar was gradually worn down by his younger brothers and came to terms with them in 843 with the Treaty of Verdun, which assigned Lothar the imperial title and central kingdom of the empire. Charles was assigned the western kingdom, and Louis received the eastern kingdom, including territories that extended east of the Rhine River and north of the Alps.
   Although the three brothers had come to terms and continued to meet and to appear on the surface to cooperate with each other, none of the three were content with the settlement, and each conspired to enlarge his share at his brothers' expense. As king of East Francia, Louis was the sole binding force in a newly created territory and sought to solidify his authority throughout his kingdom, in part by establishing or favoring monasteries-a policy used effectively by his successors in the tenth century. As ever, Bavaria remained his power base and the starting point for his expansionist tendencies to the east and west. His efforts to expand his eastern frontier met with little success, but he did send forth missionaries in an effort to extend both religious and political authority. He also made several attempts to seize West Francia from his half brother and former ally, Charles the Bald. In 853 a group of west Frankish nobles sought his aid, and in 854 he sent his son to Aquitaine. In 858, Louis himself invaded his half brother's kingdom, but on neither occasion was he able to unseat his brother, in part because Charles the Bald received the full support of the bishops of his realm.
   Louis also cast covetous eyes on the kingdom of his older brother Lothar, or least that of Lothar's heirs. When Lothar died in 855, his kingdom was divided among his sons, with his son Louis inheriting the imperial crown. The other son, Lothar, inherited much of the northern part of his father's kingdom, Lotharingia, but died without heir. Louis the German and Charles each sought to acquire the territory. Louis invaded in 870, and he and his brother came to terms in the treaty of Meerssen in that year. They divided the realm of Lotharingia between themselves, with both brothers gaining important territory and Louis obtaining the capital, Aachen. Louis also attempted to seize the imperial title after the death of his nephew Louis in 875, but was outmaneuvered by Charles the Bald, who was crowned emperor.
   Along with his struggles against his brothers, Louis the German faced challenges to his power from his sons, Carloman (d. 880) and Louis the Younger (d. 882), but not Charles the Fat (d. 888). As early as 856 he faced rebellion from his son Carloman, who built up his power in Bavaria at his father's expense. In 860 Louis sought to curtail his son's advances, and in 863 an open power struggle developed between the two. By 865 the two had been reconciled, but Carloman's brother, Louis the Younger, suspicious of his older brother, revolted. The revolt was brought to a close by 866, thanks in part to the efforts of Charles the Bald to reconcile his brother and his nephew. Although Louis the Younger quarreled with his father on occasion after 866 and continued to be mistrustful of his brother, Louis the German never faced the kinds of revolt that his brother Lothar or his father Louis the Pious had faced. In part, this was due to his ability to reconcile with his sons after disputes broke out. It was also due to his willingness, perhaps as a result of his awareness of potential problems from his sons, to bestow power on his sons. In the late 850s and early 860s, Louis granted land and authority to his sons-they were given power to rule that was less than that of a king but more than that of a noble. They were granted important territorial regions, and in that way they were the precursors of the territorial dukes of the later Middle Ages.
   At his death, Louis's three sons divided the realm among themselves. One of them, Charles the Fat, went on to assume the imperial title that his father had at times pursued, only to lose it when deposed in 887.
   Louis the German's reign was marked by relative stability in his own kingdom and efforts, not always successful, to expand his western and eastern frontiers. In a good Carolingian fashion, he promoted missionary activity among the pagan folk on his eastern frontier. His efforts to convert the pagan and expand his border prefigured the activities of tenth-century rulers, and his arrangement with his sons also foreshadowed later medieval developments. Although in many ways a traditional Carolingian ruler, Louis laid the foundation for developments in later medieval Germany.
   See also
 ♦ Fichtenau, Heinrich. The Carolingian Empire. Trans. Peter Munz. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.
 ♦ Ganshof, François L. The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History. Trans. Janet L. Sondheimer. London: Longman, 1971.
 ♦ Halphen, Louis. Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire. Trans. Giselle de Nie. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1977.
 ♦ McKitterick, Rosamond. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987. London: Longman, 1983.
 ♦ Nelson, Janet. Charles the Bald. London: Longman, 1992.
 ♦ Reuter, Timothy. Germany in the Early Middle Ages, c. 800-1056. London: Longman, 1991.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
 ♦ Scholz, Bernhard Walter, trans. Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard's History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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