Emperor Charles III

Charles the Fat

Emperor Charles III
Image of Emperor Charles III adapted from a 17th-century portrait by Nicolas de Larmessin, currently in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Public Domain

Charles III was also known as:

Charles the Fat; in French, Charles Le Gros; in German, Karl Der Dicke.

Charles III was known for:

Being the last of the Carolingian line of emperors. Charles acquired most of his lands through a series of unexpected and unfortunate deaths, then proved unable to secure the empire against Viking invasion and was deposed. Although he had control of what was to become France for a short while, Charles III is not usually counted as one of the kings of France.


King & Emperor

Places of Residence and Influence:


Important Dates:

Born: 839
Becomes King of Swabia: Aug. 28, 876
Becomes King of Italy: 879
Crowned Emperor: Feb. 12, 881
Inherits Louis the Younger's Holdings: 882
Reunites Empire: 885
Deposed: 887
Died: , 888

About Charles III:

Charles was the youngest son of Louis the German, who was the son of Louis the Pious and the grandson of Charlemagne. Louis the German arranged marriages for his sons, and Charles was wed to Richardis, the daughter of Count Erchangar of Alemannia. 

Louis the German did not control all the territory that his father and grandfather had ruled. That empire had been divided among Louis and his brothers Lothair and Charles the Bald. Although Louis had successfully kept his portion of the empire together against first his brothers, then outer forces, and finally a rebellion by his eldest son Carloman, he decided to divide his lands, according to the Frankish tradition of gavelkind, among his own three sons. Carloman was given Bavaria and much of what is today Austria; Louis the Younger got Franconia, Saxony and Thuringia; and Charles received territory that included Alemannia and Rhaetia, which would later be called Swabia.  

When Louis the German died in 876, Charles acceded to the throne of Swabia. Then, in 879, Carloman took ill and resigned; he would die a year later. Charles obtained what was then the kingdom of Italy from his dying brother. Pope John VIII decided that Charles would be his best bet in defending the papacy from Arab threats; and so he crowned Charles emperor and his wife Richardis empress on February 12, 881. Unfortunately for the pope, Charles was too concerned with matters in his own lands to help him out. In 882, Louis the Younger died from injuries sustained in a riding accident, and Charles acquired most of the lands his father had held, becoming king of all the East Franks. 

The rest of the empire of Charlemagne had come under the control of Charles the Bald and then his son, Louis the Stammerer. Now two sons of Louis the Stammerer each ruled portions of their late father's territory. Louis III died in 882 and his brother Carloman died in 884; neither of them had legitimate children. There was a third son of Louis the Stammerer: the future Charles the Simple; but he was only five years old. Charles III was regarded as a better protector of the empire and was chosen to succeed his cousins. Thus, in 885, primarily by inheriting land, Charles III reunited almost all the territory once ruled by Charlemagne, but for Provence, which had been taken by the usurper Boso.

Unfortunately, Charles was beset by illness, and was not possessed of the energy and ambition that his predecessors had displayed in building and maintaining the empire. Though he was concerned by Viking activity, he failed to stop their advances, brokering a treaty in 882 with Northmen on the Meuse River that allowed them to settle in Frisia, and paying a tribute to an even more aggressive contingent of Danes who threatened Paris in 886. Neither solution proved particularly beneficial to Charles and his people, especially the latter, which resulted in the Danes pillaging much of Burgundy. 

Charles was known to be generous and pious, but he had difficulty dealing with the nobility and was heavily influenced by a much-hated advisor, Liutward, who Charles was ultimately forced to dismiss. This, combined with his inability to halt the progress of the Vikings, made him an easy target for insurrection. His nephew Arnulf, the illegitimate son of his eldest brother Carloman, had the qualities of leadership that Charles lacked, and in the summer of 887 a general rebellion flared up in support of the younger man. Unable to garner any real backing, Charles eventually agreed to abdicate. He retired to an estate in Swabia that Arnulf granted to him, and died on January 13, 888.

In 887 the empire was divided into Western Francia, Burgundy, Italy, and Eastern Francia or the Teutonic Kingdom, which would be governed by Arnulf. Further war was not far off, and the empire of Charlemagne would never again be one cohesive entity.

More Charles III Resources:

Charles III in Print

The "compare prices" link below will take you to a site where you can compare prices at booksellers across the web. More in-depth info about the book may be found by clicking on to the book's page at one of the online merchants. The "visit merchant" link leads directly to an online bookstore; neither About.com nor Melissa Snell is responsible for any purchases you may make through this link.

Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the End of the Carolingian Empire
(Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series)
by Simon MacLean
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The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe
by Pierre Riché; translated by Michael Idomir Allen
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The Carolingian Empire

Chronological Index

Geographical Index

Index by Profession, Achievement, or Role in Society

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Snell, Melissa. "Emperor Charles III." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/emperor-charles-iii-1788679. Snell, Melissa. (2020, August 26). Emperor Charles III. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/emperor-charles-iii-1788679 Snell, Melissa. "Emperor Charles III." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/emperor-charles-iii-1788679 (accessed March 28, 2023).