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Otto, the Kingdom of Italy and Becoming Emperor

Under Charlemagne, who deposed the Italian king, took up the title “king of the Lombards”. After the death of Charles the Fat in 887, Italy fell into instability and a number of kings attempted to establish themselves as independent Italian monarchs. During this period, known as the Feudal Anarchy (888–962) the title Rex Italicorum (“King of the Italians”) was introduced replacing the title King of the Lombards.

Berengar I of Italy (the last of the Carolingians to claim the Imperial title) fought against Rudolf II of Burgundy, a member of the Elder House of Welf, to control northern Italy and this conflict ended with Berengar’s death, and Rudolf could claim the Italian throne. However, the inhabitants of Lombardy weren’t happy with this decision and called for the help of another ally, Hugh of Provence, who considered Rudolf an enemy for a long time.

Although Hugh challenged Rudolf for the Burgundian throne, he only succeeded when Rudolf II died in 937, and in order to be able to control Upper Burgundy Hugh decided to marry his son Lothair with Adelaide, the daughter of Rudolf II of Burgundy, and Bertha of Swabia who was 15 years old. The marriage produced a daughter, Emma of Italy, born about 948. Emma became Queen of West Francia by marrying King Lothair II of West Francia, the eldest son of King Louis IV of West Francia and Gerberga of Saxony.

The next threat to the Italian throne came from Berengar of Ivrea who was a son of Margrave Adalbert I of Ivrea and his wife Gisela of Friuli, daughter of Berengar I of Italy, his grandfather who he was named after. Berengar succeeded his father as margrave about 923 and married Willa, daughter of the Bosonid, margrave of Tuscany and niece of Hugh of Provence, King of Italy. In 940 Berengar led a revolt of Italian nobles against the rule of his uncle by marriage, Hugh of Provence.

To evade an assault by Hugh’s liensmen, Berengar, forewarned by the king’s young son Lothair, had to flee to the court of King Otto I of East Francia. Otto avoided taking sides; nevertheless, in 945 Berengar was able to return to Italy with hired troops, welcomed by the local nobility.

Hugh was defeated and retired to Arles, and he was nominally succeeded by his son who briefly became King Lothair II of Italy. From the time of Berengar’s successful uprising, all real power and patronage in the Kingdom of Italy was concentrated in his hands, with Hugh’s son Lothair as titular king only. Lothair’s brief reign ended upon his early death in 950, presumably poisoned.

Berengar of Ivrea now assumed the royal title and became Berengar II of Italy with his son Adalbert as co-ruler. He attempted to legitimize his kingship by forcing Lothair’s widow Adelaide, into marriage with Adalbert. Adelaide fiercely refused, whereafter Berengar had her imprisoned at Garda Castle, allegedly mistreated by Berengar’s wife Willa. With the help of Count Adalbert Atto of Canossa, Adelaide managed to flee and entreated the protection of King Otto of East Francia. Otto, himself a widower since 946, married Adelaide himself, and assumed the title of King of the Lombards, and received the homage of the Italian nobility.

In 960, the former King Berengar II of Italy once again invaded the Papal States under the rule of Pope John XII, who appealed to King Otto to battle against Berengar II. It wasn’t until after the Pope agreed to crown him as Emperor, did Otto assemble his army to march upon Italy. In preparation for his second Italian campaign and the imperial coronation, Otto planned his kingdom’s future. At the Imperial Diet at Worms in May 961, Otto named his six-year-old son Otto II as heir apparent and co-ruler, and had him crowned at Aachen Cathedral on May 26, 961.

Otto II was anointed by the Archbishops Bruno I of Cologne, William of Mainz, and Henry I of Trier. The King instituted a separate chancery to issue diplomas in his heir’s name, and appointed his brother Bruno and illegitimate son Wilhelm as Otto II’s co-regents in Germany.

Otto’s army descended into northern Italy in August of 961 through the Brenner Pass at Trento. The German king moved towards Pavia, the former Lombard capital of Italy, where he celebrated Christmas and now assumed the title King of Italy for himself. Berengar II’s armies retreated to their strongholds in order to avoid battle with Otto, allowing him to advance southward unopposed.

Otto reached Rome on January 31, 962; three days later, February 2, Otto was crowned Emperor by Pope John XII at Old St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope also anointed Otto’s wife Adelaide who had accompanied him on his Italian campaign, as empress. With Otto’s coronation as emperor, the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy were unified into a common realm, later called the Holy Roman Empire.