Lothair I

A Concise Biography

Lothaire I, from an image in an 8th-century Gospel
Lothaire I, taken from an image in an 8th-century Gospel, currently in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Public Domain

Lothair was the first-born son of  Louis the Pious and his first wife, Ermengarde, and was born in 795 C.E. When Lothair was about 19, his grandfather, Charlemagne, died, and Louis inherited all the territory of the empire (though he did not acquire the title of Roman Emperor). Lothair was crowned king of Bavaria, and three years later, at the age of 22, he was made co-emperor with his father.

Uniting and Dividing the Empire

At this time (817), Louis issued a decree known as the Ordinatio imperii, which was designed to keep the empire a unified whole after his death.

Lothair's two younger brothers, Pippin and Louis (who would later be known as Louis the German), each received their own kingdoms, but they would always be under Lothair's authority -- at least, that was the plan. Lothair's brothers were not particularly happy with this state of affairs, but they took no immediate action, and an uneasy peace was maintained for several years.

Lothair as Emperor

In 822, Lothair took control of territory in Italy, and in 823 he was officially crowned co-emperor by the pope, Paschal I. This was a highly significant event, not only because it began the tradition of the pontiff handing a sword to the emperor, symbolizing the temporal power that was to defend against evil, but because it formally instituted the coronation of emperors in Rome.

Now firmly established as emperor, Lothair issued a decree of his own, one that asserted that the empire had political authority over Rome.

The Constitutio Romana also demanded that the pope make an oath of fealty to the emperor.

Disruption in the Family

In 823, Louis' second wife, Judith, gave birth to a son, Charles. In 829 (no doubt under pressure from Judith), Louis decided to redraw the divisions of the empire in order to accommodate his youngest son.

He did this by changing the Ordinatio imperii so that part of the territory under Lothair's control was instead granted to Charles. This angered Lothair enough for him to break away from the imperial government, and not even his councillor Einhard could persuade him to mend fences with his father.

Revolt and Rebellion

In 830 a revolt took place at the palace, and Lothair was reinstated as co-emperor; but it wasn't long before he was deposed. Over the next year or so, Lothair's brothers grew more and more dissatisfied with their father; and so they followed the eldest brother in a rebellion against Louis in 833. Meeting him at a site in Alsace that would become known as the "Field of Lies," the three brothers and a group of supporters forced Louis to abdicate; and Lothair once again became emperor.

But Louis I couldn't be kept down for long. In less than a year he had been freed from captivity and had regained the imperial throne. Lothair was allowed to rule the Italian territories, but he was no longer accorded the status of "emperor."

Re-Dividing the Empire

In December, 838, Lothair's brother Pippin died, and Louis decided to draw up yet another plan of division for the empire. He gave Bavaria and the adjoining regions to Louis the German and split the remaining territory between Lothair, who received the eastern portion, and Charles, who got the part that included Paris.

Lothair was allowed the title of "emperor," but was not given the suzerainty over his brothers that the Ordinatio imperii had bestowed upon him in 817.

Civil War

When Louis I died in 840, Lothair decided to press his claim, not only to the title of "emperor," but to the power of an emperor, as well. Referencing the original terms of the Ordinatio imperii, he attempted to take control of the empire, but his two surviving brothers joined forces against him. At the Battle of Fontenoy on June 25, 841, Charles and Louis the German badly defeated Lothair. This was a horrific battle that cost many lives, though none of the leaders were killed. Lothair retreated from the field, an act that was viewed as cowardly and damaged his reputation and authority as emperor.

This civil war dragged on as Lothair attempted to regroup and his brothers pressed the advantage of their victory.

Eventually, after losing followers with every defeat and failing to garner much additional support, Lothair was forced to admit he had acted badly. He requested that the empire be partitioned three ways, and his brothers, who had hoped to divide it equally between them, agreed to Lothair's request in order to quell the growing unrest among their war-weary supporters.

After numerous diplomatic negotiations, a plan was finally agreed to and made official with the Treaty of Verdun in August, 843. In this settlement, Lothair would receive a strip of land down the center of the empire, Charles would get the western lands, and Louis the German would have control over the territory east of the Rhine. (See Map of the Western Empire as divided at Verdun, 843.) Lothair would keep his imperial title.

The Giselbert Affair

There would be no more civil war in Lothair's lifetime, but his golden years would not be without conflict. Powerful Frankish nobles frequently posed threats to all three brothers, and Lothair had particular trouble when a certain Giselbert abducted and married his daughter. Giselbert had been Count of Maasgau, a region within Lothair's territory; but during the civil war he had abandoned Lothair and had thrown his support behind Charles. When the territory was divided according to the Treaty of Verdun, Maasgau was once again under Lothair's control, and Lothair took the lands away from the man he considered a traitor.

By marrying Lothair's daughter and becoming his son-in-law, Giselbert was trying to force Lothair to give him back the county of Maasgau and let him back into his inner circle.

But for quite some time his father-in-law was too angry to do any such thing. Lothair's anger spread to his half-brother, who he held partially accountable because Giselbert had become Charles' vassal, in spite of the fact that Charles had strenuously condemned the shocking deed and insisted he'd had no prior knowledge of Giselbert's intentions.

In time, Lothair and Giselbert were reconciled, which led to the eventual reconciliation of Lothair and Charles. How Giselbert's wife felt about all this is completely unknown to us; we don't even know her name.

Lothair's Final Years

As far back as 844 Lothair turned over the governance of Italy to his eldest son, Louis II, who attained the title of emperor in 850. As he approached 60 years of age, he decided to provide for the future of his portion of the empire before it was too late. He divided up his lands among Louis and his other two sons, Lothair and Charles, in 855, then retired to a monastery.

Lothair didn't last long as a monk. He died on September 29, 855.


Who's Who Profile of Lothair I

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Snell, Melissa. "Lothair I." ThoughtCo, Aug. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/lothair-i-profile-1789089. Snell, Melissa. (2016, August 24). Lothair I. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lothair-i-profile-1789089 Snell, Melissa. "Lothair I." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lothair-i-profile-1789089 (accessed November 22, 2017).