Louis I

Louis the Pious as a miles Christi
Depiction of Louis the Pious as a miles Christi from a 9th-century manuscript, overlain with a poem by Hrabanus Maurus. Public Domain; courtesy of Wikimedia

Louis I was also known as:

Louis the Pious or Louis the Debonair (in French, Louis le Pieux, or Louis le Débonnaire; in German, Ludwig der Fromme; known to contemporaries by the Latin Hludovicus or Chlodovicus).

Louis I was known for:

Holding the Carolingian Empire together in the wake of his father Charlemagne's death. Louis was the only designated heir to survive his father.



Places of Residence and Influence:

Important Dates:

Born: April 16, 778
Forced to abdicate: June 30, 833
Died: June 20, 840

About Louis I:

In 781 Louis was appointed king of Aquitaine, one of the "sub-kingdoms" of the Carolingian Empire, and though he was only three years old at the time he would acquire great experience managing the kingdom as he matured. In 813 he became co-emperor with his father, then, when Charlemagne died a year later, he inherited the empire -- though not the title Roman Emperor.

The empire was a conglomerate of several different ethnic groups, including Franks, Saxons, Lombards, Jews, Byzantines and many others across a great span of territory. Charlemagne had handled the many differences and the large size of his realm by dividing it up into "sub-kingdoms," but Louis represented himself not as a ruler of different ethnic groups, but as a leader of Christians in a unified land.

As emperor, Louis initiated reforms and redefined the relationship between the Frankish empire and the papacy. He carefully structured a system whereby various territories could be assigned to his three grown sons while the empire remained intact. He took swift action in quashing challenges to his authority and even sent his half-brothers into monasteries to prevent any future dynastic conflicts. Louis also performed voluntary penance for his sins, a display that deeply impressed contemporary chroniclers.

The birth of a fourth son in 823 to Louis and his second wife, Judith, triggered a dynastic crisis. Louis's elder sons, Pippin, Lothair and Louis the German, had maintained a delicate if uneasy balance, and when Louis attempted to reorganize the empire to include little Charles, resentment raised its ugly head. There was a palace revolt in 830, and in 833 when Louis agreed to meet Lothair to settle their differences (at what became known as the "Field of Lies," in Alsace), he was instead confronted by all his sons and a coalition of their supporters, who forced him to abdicate.

But within a year Louis had been released from confinement and was back in power. He continued to rule energetically and decisively until his death in 840.

More Louis I Resources:

Louis I on the Web

The Ordinance of Louis the Pius - Division of the Empire of the Year 817
Extract from Altmann und Bernheim, " Ausgewahlte Urkunden," p. 12. Berlin, 1891, at Yale Law School's Avalon Project.

Emperor Louis the Pious: On Tithes, 817
Extract from A Source Book for Medieval Economic History at Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook.

Louis the Pious: Grant of Minting Coins to Abbey of Corvey, 833
Another extract from A Source Book for Medieval Economic History at Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook.

Louis I in Print

The 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 Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe
by Pierre Riché; translated by Michael Idomir Allen

The Carolingian Empire
Early Europe


Guide Note: This Who's Who Profile of Louis I was originally posted in October of 2003, and was updated in March of 2012. Content is copyright ©2003-2012 Melissa Snell.

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