1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles II. (Roman Emperor)
CHARLES II. called The Bald (823–877), Roman emperor and king of the West Franks, was the son of the emperor Louis the Pious and of his second wife Judith and was born in 823. The attempts made by his father to assign him a kingdom, first Alamannia (829), then the country between the Meuse and the Pyrenees (839), at the expense of his half-brothers Lothair and Louis led to a rising on the part of these two (see Louis I., the Pious). The death of the emperor in 840 was the signal for the outbreak of war between his sons. Charles allied himself with his brother Louis the German to resist the pretensions of the emperor Lothair, and the two allies conquered him in the bloody victory of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye (25 June 841). In the following year, the two brothers confirmed their alliance by the celebrated oaths of Strassburg, made by Charles in the Teutonic language spoken by the subjects of Louis, and by Louis in the Romance tongue of Charles’s subjects. The war was brought to an end by the treaty of Verdun (August 843), which gave to Charles the Bald the kingdom of the western Franks, which practically corresponded with what is now France, as far as the Meuse, the Saône and the Rhone, with the addition of the Spanish March as far as the Ebro. The first years of his reign up to the death of Lothair I. (855) were comparatively peaceful, and during them was continued the system of “confraternal government” of the sons of Louis the Pious, who had various meetings with one another, at Coblenz (848), at Meersen (851), and at Attigny (854). In 858 Louis the German, summoned by the disaffected nobles, invaded the kingdom of Charles, who fled to Burgundy, and was only saved by the help of the bishops, and by the fidelity of the family of the Welfs, who were related to Judith. In 860 he in his turn tried to seize the kingdom of his nephew, Charles of Provence, but met with a repulse. On the death of Lothair II. in 869 he tried to seize his dominions, but by the treaty of Mersen (870) was compelled to share them with Louis the German. Besides this, Charles had to struggle against the incessant rebellions in Aquitaine, against the Bretons, whose revolt was led by their chief Nomenoé and Erispoé, and who inflicted on the king the defeats of Ballon (845) and Juvardeil (851), and especially against the Normans, who devastated the country in the north of Gaul, the valleys of the Seine and Loire, and even up to the borders of Aquitaine. Charles was several times compelled to purchase their retreat at a heavy price. He has been accused of being incapable of resisting them, but we must take into account the unwillingness of the nobles, who continually refused to join the royal army; moreover, the Frankish army does not seem to have been sufficiently accustomed to war to make any headway against the pirates. At any rate, Charles led various expeditions against the invaders, and tried to put a barrier in their way by having fortified bridges built over all the rivers. In 875, after the death of the emperor Louis II., Charles the Bald, supported by Pope John VIII., descended into Italy, receiving the royal crown at Pavia and the imperial crown at Rome (29th December). But Louis the German, who was also a candidate for the succession of Louis II., revenged himself for Charles’s success by invading and devastating his dominions. Charles was recalled to Gaul, and after the death of Louis the German (28th August 876), in his turn made an attempt to seize his kingdom, but at Andernach met with a shameful defeat (8th October 876). In the meantime, John VIII., who was menaced by the Saracens, was continually urging him to come to Italy, and Charles, after having taken at Quierzy the necessary measures for safeguarding the government of his dominions in his absence, again crossed the Alps, but this expedition had been received with small enthusiasm by the nobles, and even by Boso, Charles’s brother-in-law, who had been entrusted by him with the government of Lombardy, and they refused to come with their men to join the imperial army. At the same time Carloman, son of Louis the German, entered northern Italy. Charles, ill and in great distress, started on his way back to Gaul, and died while crossing the pass of the Mont Cenis on the 5th or 6th of October 877. He was succeeded by his son Louis the Stammerer, the child of Ermentrude, daughter of a count of Orleans, whom he had married in 842, and who had died in 869. In 870 he had married Richilde, who was descended from a noble family of Lorraine, but none of the children whom he had by her played a part of any importance. Charles seems to have been a prince of education and letters, a friend of the church, and conscious of the support he could find in the episcopate against his unruly nobles, for he chose his councillors for preference from among the higher clergy, as in the case of Guenelon of Sens, who betrayed him, or of Hincmar of Reims. But his character and his reign have been judged very variously. The general tendency seems to have been to accept too easily the accounts of the chroniclers of the east Frankish kingdom, which are favourable to Louis the German, and to accuse Charles of cowardice and bad faith. He seems on the contrary not to have lacked activity or decision.
Authorities.—The most important authority for the history of Charles’s reign is represented by the Annales Bertiniani, which were the work of Prudentius, bishop of Troyes, up to 861, then up to 882 of the celebrated Hincmar, archbishop of Reims. This prince’s charters are to be found published in the collections of the Académie des Inscriptions, by M. M. Prou. The most complete history of the reign is found in E. Dümmler, Geschichte des ostfränkischen Reiches (3 vols., Leipzig, 1887–1888). See also J. Calmette, La Diplomatie carolingienne du traité de Verdun à la mort de Charles le Chauve (Paris, 1901), and F. Lot, “Une Année du règne de Charles le Chauve,” in Le Moyen-Âge, (1902) pp. 393-438.
- For Charles I., Roman emperor, see Charlemagne; cf. under Charles I. of France below.