Charles the Simple

Last updated

Charles the Simple
King of West Francia
Charles the Simple 02.jpg
14th century depiction of the imprisonment of Charles III
Predecessor Odo of France
Successor Robert I of France
Born17 September 879
Died7 October 929 (aged 50)
Spouse Frederuna
(m. 907; d. 917)
Eadgifu of Wessex
(m. 919)
IssueBy Frederuna:

By Eadgifu:
Louis IV of France
Dynasty Carolingian
Father Louis the Stammerer
Mother Adelaide of Paris

Charles III (17 September 879 – 7 October 929), called the Simple or the Straightforward (from the Latin Carolus Simplex), [lower-alpha 1] was the King of West Francia from 898 until 922 and the King of Lotharingia from 911 until 919–23. He was a member of the Carolingian dynasty.


Early life

Charles was the third and posthumous son of king Louis the Stammerer by his second wife Adelaide of Paris. [3] As a child, Charles was prevented from succeeding to the throne at the time of the death in 884 of his half-brother, king Carloman II. [4] Instead, Frankish nobles of the realm asked his cousin, Emperor Charles the Fat to assume the crown. [5] He was also prevented from succeeding the unpopular Charles the Fat, who was deposed in November 887 and died in January 888, although it is unknown if his overthrow was accepted or even made known in West Francia before his death. The nobility then elected Odo, the hero of the Siege of Paris (885–886) as the new king, although there was a faction that supported claims of Guy III of Spoleto. The young Charles was put under the protection of Ranulf II, the Duke of Aquitaine, who may have tried to claim the throne for him and in the end used the royal title himself until making peace with Odo.[ citation needed ]

King of West Francia

In 893, at the age of 14, Charles was crowned by a faction opposed to the rule of Odo at the Reims Cathedral, becoming monarch of West Francia only after the death of Odo in 898. [6]

Denier of Charles III Denier sous Charles III le Simple.jpg
Denier of Charles III

In 911, a group of Vikings led by Rollo besieged Paris and Chartres. After a victory near Chartres on 26 August, Charles decided to negotiate with Rollo, resulting in the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte which created the Duchy of Normandy. In return for the Vikings' loyalty, they were granted all the land between the river Epte and the sea, as well as Duchy of Brittany, which at the time was an independent country which West Francia had unsuccessfully tried to conquer. Rollo also agreed to be baptised and to marry Charles' daughter Gisela. [7]

King of Lotharingia

Also in 911, Louis the Child, the last Carolingian king of East Francia died, and nobles of Lotharingia, who had been loyal to him, under the leadership of Reginar, Duke of Lorraine declared Charles their new king, breaking from East Francia which had elected non-Carolingian Conrad I as the new king. [6] Charles had tried to win Lotharingian support for years, for instance, by marrying in April 907 a Lotharingian woman named Frederuna, [8] and in 909 his niece Cunigunda married Wigeric of Lotharingia. Charles defended Lotharingia against two attacks by Conrad I. [9] In 925, Lotharingia was once again seized by East Francia.[ citation needed ]

Revolt of the nobles

Realms ruled by Charles the Simple in 915 (red) Carolingian empire 915.svg
Realms ruled by Charles the Simple in 915 (red)

Queen Frederuna died on 10 February 917 leaving six daughters and no sons, [10] leaving the succession uncertain. On 7 October 919 Charles married Eadgifu, the daughter of Edward the Elder, King of England, who bore him a son, the future King Louis IV of France.[ citation needed ]

By this time, Charles' excessive favouritism towards a certain Hagano, a petty nobleman (mediocris) and a relative of Charles' first wife Frederuna, had turned the aristocracy against him. He endowed Hagano with monasteries that were already the benefices of other barons, alienating them. In Lotharingia, he earned the enmity of the new duke Gilbert, who in 919 declared loyalty to the new king of East Francia Henry the Fowler. [6] Opposition to Charles in Lotharingia was not universal, however; he retained support of Wigeric.[ citation needed ]

The nobles, completely exasperated with Charles' policies and especially his favoritism of count Hagano, seized Charles in 920. [11] After negotiations by Archbishop Herveus of Reims the king was released. [11]

In 922, the Frankish nobles revolted again led by Robert of Neustria. [11] Robert, who was Odo's brother, was elected king by the rebels and crowned, while Charles had to flee to Lotharingia. On 2 July 922, Charles lost his most faithful supporter, Herveus of Reims, who had succeeded Fulk in 900. Charles returned with a Norman army in 923 but was defeated on 15 June at the Battle of Soissons by Robert, who died in the battle. [6] Charles was captured and imprisoned in a castle at Péronne under the guard of Herbert II of Vermandois. [12] Robert's son-in-law Rudolph of Burgundy was then elected to succeed him as king. [13]

Charles died in prison on 7 October 929 and was buried at the nearby abbey of Saint-Fursy. His son by Eadgifu would eventually be crowned in 936 as Louis IV of France. [14] In the initial aftermath of Charles's defeat, Queen Eadgifu and children had fled to England. [14]


On 6 December 884, King Carloman II of West Francia died without a male heir and his half-brother, the future Charles the Simple, was just a five-year-old boy. Because of this, their cousin Charles the Fat, already Holy Roman Emperor and King of East Francia, was invited by the nobles of the Kingdom to assume the throne. Since the beginning, the new monarch was forced to deal with constant Viking raids, with little success. After three years of incompetent government, Charles the Fat was finally deposed by the Diet of Tribur in 887. [15]

Faced with the growing threat of northern invaders, the local nobles again rejected the succession of Charles the Simple because he was too young, and Odo, Count of Paris (member of the Robertian dynasty) was chosen as the new King of West Francia, after successfully defending Paris against the Vikings, led by Rollo. In 893, aided by Archbishop Fulk of Reims, Charles the Simple attempted to reclaim the throne, but in vain. By 897, the young prince ruled only the city of Laon before Odo on his deathbed designated him as his successor.[ citation needed ]

Following the death of Odo in January 898, Charles the Simple finally assumed the title of king of West Francia. Soon the new monarch showed his ambition to conquer Lotharingia, the main objective of all the monarchs of West Francia since Charles the Bald. Lotharingia was the cradle of the Carolingian dynasty. Charlemagne's ancestors, the Pippinids were from Lotharingia (Herstal, Jupille...). After the Treaty of Verdun in 843, the Lotharingia was part of Middle Francia for a short time and both West and East Francia tried to gain control over it. Arnulf of Carinthia, King of East Francia prevented this by entrusting the land to his son Zwentibold in 895. Zwentibold was hated by his subjects, so Charles the Simple decided to invade in 898 after being called by Count Reginar of Hainaut. After seizing Aachen and capturing Charlemagne's Palace at Nijmegen, he returned to France at the request of the German bishops. A few years later, in September 911, the Lotharingian aristocracy again called on Charles the Simple after the death of Louis the Child, the last Carolingian ruler in East Francia.[ citation needed ]

Charles the Simple was crowned King of Lotharingia in early November 911. However, the constant absences of the new monarch (who preferred to stay in Aachen or Thionville), quickly irritated the Lotharingian nobility (who feared for their own independence) and nobles of France, who saw this inclination as an affront. [16] The situation was even more complicated because, according to Flodoard, Charles the Simple refused to march against the Hungarians who threatened Lotharingia (only Archbishop Hervé de Reims was present there) and finally caused an open rebellion when he attempt to dispossess his own aunt, Abbess Rothilde (also mother-in-law of Hugh the Great), from Chelles Abbey in order to give it to his favourite, Hagano (a relative of his first wife Frederuna). [17]


From 920 to 922, Charles the Simple was in trouble. Although he signed the Treaty of Bonn with king Henry the Fowler of East Francia on 7 November 921, he had to fight on two fronts: one against Duke Giselbert of Lotharingia and the other against Hugh the Great, irritated by the treatment of his mother-in-law. Defeated, in June 922 Charles the Simple took refuge in Lotharingia, and the nobles of the West Francia declared him deposed from the throne, choosing as the new King Robert, Count of Paris, brother of the late King Odo and father of Hugh the Great. [18]

Charles the Simple returned to France to regain the throne. His army, supported by a Lotharingian army and a group of soldiers, faced King Robert's army at Soissons in June 923. According to Richerus, Robert was killed in battle by Count Fulbert [19] or according to other historians, by Charles the Simple. Despite the death of Robert, his army won the battle and Charles the Simple had to escape from the battlefield. The French nobles elected Raoul of Burgundy (Robert's son-in-law) as their new King, with his coronation taking place on 13 July 923 at St Médard, Soissons.[ citation needed ]

During the summer, Charles the Simple was captured by Herbert II, Count of Vermandois (another son-in-law of King Robert) at Château-Thierry; meanwhile, King Henry I of Germany took advantage of the situation to seize and add Lotharingia to his domains, after giving his daughter Gerberga of Saxony in marriage to Duke Giselbert. [20]

After some time at Château-Thierry, the humiliated Charles the Simple was transferred in 924 to Péronne, where he died on 7 October 929 and was immediately buried in the local Monastery of Saint-Fursy. The legitimate Carolingian heir was now Louis, but King Rudolph retained the throne and ruled until his death from illness on 15 January 936 at Auxerre, being buried in the Abbey of Sainte-Colombe of Sens. [21] The nobility then discussed who could be the next King, because Rudolph had died without surviving male heirs. Finally, the nobles unanimously summoned back Louis to France, thanks to the decisive support of Hugh the Great, to become their new King.[ citation needed ]


Charles first married in May 907 to Frederuna, daughter of Dietrich, Count in the Hamaland. [3] Together they had six daughters:

Charles married for the second time in 919 to Eadgifu of Wessex. [3] Together they had one son:

Charles also had several other offspring:


  1. His nickname 'simplex' or the simple is misleading. The Latin 'Simplex' was given to him meaning straightforward as in loyal or without guile. The nickname 'the Simple' has stuck with him even though its meaning has been corrupted. He was not, however, generally complimented by the chroniclers. He was called Charles the Stupid by a later chronicler for an incident in 919 where he abandoned his men. [1] Besides this, he was called stultus (fatuous), hebes (stupid), insipiens (foolish), parvus (small) and minor (inferior). [2]

Related Research Articles

Louis IV of France King of West Francia

Louis IV, called d'Outremer or Transmarinus, reigned as king of West Francia from 936 to 954. A member of the Carolingian dynasty, he was the only son of king Charles the Simple and his second wife Eadgifu of Wessex, daughter of King Edward the Elder of Wessex. His reign is mostly known thanks to the Annals of Flodoard and the later Historiae of Richerus.

Robert I of France King of West Francia

Robert I of France, was the elected King of West Francia from 922 to 923. Before his election to the throne he was Count of Poitiers, Count of Paris and Marquis of Neustria and Orléans. He succeeded the overthrown Carolingian king Charles the Simple, who in 898 had succeeded Robert's brother, king Odo.

Hugh the Great Duke of the Franks, Count of Paris and ancestor of the Capetian dynasty

Hugh the Great was the Duke of the Franks and Count of Paris.

Lotharingia former medieval kingdom (855-959)

Lotharingia was a medieval successor kingdom of the Carolingian Empire and a later duchy of the Ottonian Empire, comprising the present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany), Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany), Saarland (Germany), and Lorraine (France). It was named after King Lothair II who received this territory after the kingdom of Middle Francia of his father Lothair I was divided among his sons in 855.

Charles the Fat 9th century Holy Roman Emperor

Charles III, also known as Charles the Fat, was the emperor of the Carolingian Empire from 881 to 888. A member of the Carolingian dynasty, Charles was the youngest son of Louis the German and Hemma, and a great-grandson of Charlemagne. He was the last Carolingian emperor of legitimate birth and the last to rule over all the realms of the Franks.

Conrad I of Germany King of East Francia

Conrad I, called the Younger, was the king of East Francia from 911 to 918. He was the first king not of the Carolingian dynasty, the first to be elected by the nobility and the first to be anointed. He was chosen as the king by the rulers of the East Frankish stem duchies after the death of young king Louis the Child. Ethnically Frankish, prior to this election he had ruled the Duchy of Franconia from 906.

Rudolph of France King of France

Rudolph or Rudolf was the elected King of France from 923 until his death in 936. Prior to his election as king, he was Duke of Burgundy and Count of Troyes from 921. He was the son of Richard, Duke of Burgundy, and Adelaide of Auxerre, and inherited the Duchy of Burgundy from his father. He married Emma of France, daughter of king Robert I of France. He is frequently confused with his uncle Rudolph I of Burgundy.

Lothair of France Penultimate Carolingian king of West Francia

Lothair, sometimes called Lothair III or Lothair IV, was the penultimate Carolingian king of West Francia, reigning from 10 September 954 until his death in 986.

Frederuna (887–917) was born in Goslar, Hanover to Dietrich Theodorich von Ringelheim, Duke of Saxony and his wife Gisela of Lotharingia. She was the sister of Beuve II, the Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, and the first wife of King Charles III of France, whom she married in 907. She bore Charles six daughters: Ermentrude, Gisela, Frederuna, Adelais, Rotrude, and Hildegarde. Frederuna died in 917 and she was succeeded as queen consort by Eadgifu of England, a daughter of Edward the Elder in 919.

Zwentibold King of Lotharingia and Saint

Zwentibold, a member of the Carolingian dynasty, was the illegitimate son of Emperor Arnulf. In 895, his father, then king of East Francia, granted him the Kingdom of Lotharingia, which he ruled until his death. After his death he was declared a saint and martyr by the Catholic Church.

Battle of Soissons (923) battle in 923

The Battle of Soissons was fought on 15 June 923 between an alliance of Frankish insurgent nobles led by Robert I, elected king in an assembly the year prior, and an army composed of Lotharingians, Normans, and Carolingian forces under King Charles III's command. The battle took place at Soissons, near Aisne. Robert was killed, but his army won the war. Charles was imprisoned by Herbert II of Vermandois and held captive until his death in 929. Rudolph, Duke of Burgundy, Robert's son-in-law, succeeded him as ruler of West Francia.

Fulk the Venerable was the Archbishop of Reims from 883 until his death. He was the chief opponent of the non-Carolingian king of France, Odo, in the last quarter of the 9th century. He was the brother of Anscar I, Margrave of Ivrea

Herbert II, Count of Vermandois, Count of Meaux, and Count of Soissons. He was the first to exercise power over the territory that became the province of Champagne.

West Francia former country (843-987)

In medieval history, West Francia or the Kingdom of the West Franks was the western part of Charlemagne's Empire, ruled by the Germanic Franks that forms the earliest stage of the Kingdom of France, lasting from about 840 until 987. West Francia was formed out of the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 under the Treaty of Verdun after the death of Emperor Louis the Pious and the east–west division which "gradually hardened into the establishment of separate kingdoms ... of what we can begin to call Germany and France".

Beatrice of Vermandois was a Carolingian aristocrat, queen of Western Francia by marriage to Robert I, and mother of Hugh the Great.

Marches of Neustria

The Marches of Neustria were two marches created in 861 by the Carolingian king of West Francia Charles the Bald that were ruled by officials appointed by the crown, known as wardens, prefects or margraves. Originally, one March was created against the Bretons and one against the Norsemen, often called the Breton March and Norman March respectively.

Hagano was a petty nobleman (mediocris) who achieved influence in Lotharingia and West Francia during the rule of Charles the Simple (898–922). He was a relative of Charles' first wife, Frederuna, and was originally from Lotharingia. Though Frederuna had died in 917, by 918 Hagano had become the king's favourite and his most trusted advisor. The aristocracy despised him, however, and the authority of Charles over the nobles was severely weakened by Hagano's presence at court. Charles' sin appears to be transferring grants in benefice, especially of monasteries, from his barons to Hagano.

Hugh I was count of Maine (900–933). He succeeded his father as of Count of Maine c. 900.

Ruotger, also spelled Rutger, Rudger or Rudgar, was the archbishop of Trier from 915. His archdiocese at first lay within the kingdom of West Francia, but after 925 it was annexed to East Francia, an event in which Ruotger played a major role.

Ricwin , was a Count of Verdun.


  1. Jim Bradbury, The Capetians; Kings of France 987–1328 (New York; London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p. 33
  2. John E. Morby, "The Sobriquets of Medieval European Princes", Canadian Journal of History, 13:1 (1978), p. 6.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 1
  4. The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 9919–966, ed. & trans. Steven Fanning; Bernard S. Bachrach (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. xv
  5. Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 216
  6. 1 2 3 4 Michel Parisse, "Lotharingia", The New Cambridge Medieval History, III: c. 900–c. 1024, ed. Timothy Reuter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 313–15.
  7. Ordericus Vitalis [1075 – c. 1142 CE], trans. Thomas Forester, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Volume 1 (London: H.G. Bohn, 1853), 379-81. More-recent discussion of critical sourcing in Leah Shopkow, "Dudo of St.-Quentin and His Patrons", in Thomas E. Burman et al., Religion, Text, and Society in Medieval Spain and Northern Europe: Essays in Honor of J.N. Hillgarth (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2002), 307-11. ISBN   9780888448163
  8. Bradbury, J. (2007). The Capetians: Kings of France 987–1328. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 34. ISBN   978-0-8264-2491-4 . Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  9. Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. III—Germany and the Western Empire, eds. H. M. Gwatking; J. P. Whitney, et al. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922), p. 74
  10. Genealogiæ Comitum Flandriæ, Witgeri Genealogica Arnulfi Comitis MGH SS IX, p. 303.
  11. 1 2 3 Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 250
  12. Jean Dunbabin, "West Francia: The Kingdom", The New Cambridge Medieval History, III: c. 900–c. 1024, ed. Timothy Reuter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 378–79.
  13. The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 9919–966, ed. & trans. Steven Fanning; Bernard S. Bachrach (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. xvi
  14. 1 2 The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 9919–966, ed. & trans. Steven Fanning; Bernard S. Bachrach (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. xvii
  15. Depreux 2002, pp. 128–129.
  16. Isaïa 2009, p. 82.
  17. Depreux 2002, pp. 131–132.
  18. Depreux 2002, p. 129.
  19. Richer de Reims: Gallica Histoire de son temps Book I, p. 87 Archived 19 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine .
  20. Isaïa 2009, p. 87.
  21. Toussaint-Duplessis: Annales de Paris. Jusqu'au règne de Hugues Capet, 1753, p. 201.
  22. Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. Marjorie Chibnall, Volume II, Books III And IV (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 9
Charles the Simple
Born: 17 September 879 Died: 7 October 929
Preceded by
King of West Francia
Succeeded by
Robert I
Preceded by
Louis the Child
King of Lotharingia
Succeeded by