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When his third wife died in 783, Charlemagne might not have wanted to marry again. Yet a few months later, he wed Fastrada, the heroine of my latest book, Queen of the Darkest Hour.

So why would a king not want another spouse, then change his mind? A possible answer is politics. Charles likely grieved for Hildegard, but his love for her did not play a role in his decision. Marriage in early medieval times was a matter of the head, not the heart.

In Rome two years earlier, two of Hildegard’s sons were named to subkings of their father’s empire. Her middle son, 4-year-old Carloman, was baptized and renamed Pepin, even though Charles had a child by that name. The younger Pepin (whom I call Carloman in my first two novels and Little Pippin in Queen of the Darkest Hour) and her youngest son, 3-year-old Louis, were named subkings of Aquitaine and Italy. Her daughter Hruodtrude was betrothed to another child, the Byzantine emperor (his mom was regent). Like most medieval noblewomen, Hildegard was ambitious for her children.

With the elder Pepin, the son of Charles’s first ex-wife (later declared a concubine), likely destined to enter the Church as an archbishop, Hildegard probably expected her eldest son, Karl (called Charles the Younger by scholars) to inherit the rest. Frankish tradition was for each son born in wedlock to inherit a kingdom, rather than primogeniture (only the eldest legitimate son gets the throne).

Charlemagne and Louis the Pious

Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious, Grandes Chroniques de France (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Charles had not yet designated the rest of the realm—dividing the kingdom prematurely could lead to literal battles if the monarch fathered another son—but Charles might have favored Hildegard’s plan. This way of distributing the lands would have given each of Hildegard’s sons a sizeable inheritance and maintained the alliance with her powerful family. Charles could only hope that his sons would avoid the conflict that had threatened the peace between him and his late brother, Carloman.

To marry again after Hildegard’s death would be a gamble. If Charles had a son by another wife, this additional claimant to the throne would lessen Karl’s lands, and it could complicate matters with Hildegard’s powerful kin.

A few months after losing Hildegard, Charles went to war in Saxony (again). Although victorious, he must have realized he needed to bolster his alliances in the eastern part of the realm. He married Fastrada, an East Frank, that October and took the risk.

Already a father of seven (and probably an eighth on the way by a concubine), he might have been happy if all Fastrada did was oversee his treasury, control access to him, and tend to the household. She did not need to conceive to secure her position, but conceive she did.

And I can’t help but wonder: Did Charles pray for a girl?

This post was originally published on Susan Keogh’s blog on Sept. 5, 2018.

 

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