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Charles the Bald (June 13, 823 – October 6, 877), also known as Charles II, was a 9th-century king of West Francia (843–877), king of Italy (875–877) and emperor of the Carolingian Empire (875–877).

Charles the Bald was a grandson of Charlemagne and the youngest son of Louis I the Pious, King of the Franks, King of Aquitaine and Emperor of the Carolingian Empire and his second wife Judith of Bavaria, the daughter of Count Welf of Bavaria and Saxon noblewoman Hedwig.

Emperor Charles the Bald

No surviving sources provide a record of Judith’s exact date and year of birth. Judith was probably born around 797. Most girls in the Carolingian world were married in adolescence, with twelve years as the minimum age, though her marriage to the 41-year-old King Louis occurred in 819, when she was probably around 22 years old.

After a series of civil wars during the reign of his father, Louis the Pious, Charles succeeded, by the Treaty of Verdun (843), in acquiring the western third of the empire.

Charles the Fat (June 13, 839 – January 13, 888), also known as Charles III was the emperor of the Carolingian Empire from 881 to 888. A member of the Carolingian dynasty, Charles was the youngest son of Louis the German and Hemma, and a great-grandson of Charlemagne. He was the last Carolingian emperor of legitimate birth and the last to rule over all the realms of the Franks.

Emperor Charles the Fat

Over his lifetime, Charles became ruler of the various kingdoms of Charlemagne’s former empire. Granted lordship over Alamannia in 876, following the division of East Francia, he succeeded to the Italian throne upon the abdication of his older brother Carloman of Bavaria who had been incapacitated by a stroke.

Crowned emperor in 881 by Pope John VIII, his succession to the territories of his brother Louis the Younger (Saxony and Bavaria) the following year reunited the kingdom of East Francia. Upon the death of his cousin Carloman II in 884, he inherited all of West Francia, thus reuniting the entire Carolingian Empire.

Nickname and number

The nickname “Charles the Fat” (Latin Carolus Crassus) is not contemporary. It was first used by the Annalista Saxo (the anonymous “Saxon Annalist”) in the twelfth century. There is no contemporary reference to Charles’s physical size, but the nickname has stuck and is the common name in most modern European languages (French Charles le Gros, German Karl der Dicke, Italian Carlo il Grosso).

His numeral is roughly contemporary. Regino of Prüm, a contemporary of Charles’s recording his death, calls him “Emperor Charles, third of that name and dignity” (Latin Carolus imperator, tertius huius nominis et dignitatis).

Further on Royal Numbering

All of the numbering of the French kings follow the numbering that began with the Carolingian Dynasty. There is not any real discrepancy in the numbers except with the name Charles.

In 768 Charlemagne became co-king of the Franks along with his brother Carloman. However, Charlemagne was technically not his real name. It is an Anglicized version of his given name plus his sobriquet. His name was simply Charles.

To history, and even his contemporaries, he was known as Charles the Great (Latin: Carolus Magnus or Karolus Magnus) It is the Latin form of his name and sobriquet that have been Anglicized and combined and passed down to posterity as Charlemagne.

There were a few successor to Charlemagne that also held the name Charles and similarly were known by their name along with their sobriquet. Adding to the confusion was the fact that titles and territories were in a constant state of flux. Here is a list of the Carolingian kings/emperors with their titles and sobriquet’s.

Charles the Bald, King of West Francia, 840-877, Carolingian Emperor, 875-877

Charles the Fat, King of East Francia, 882-887. King of West Francia 884-887, Carolingian Emperor, 881-887.

Charles the Simple, King of West Francia, 898-922.

I have seen some lists where Charles the Bald is listed as Charles I of France and where Charlemagne is listed as simply Charlemagne instead of Charles I of France.

Although they were both technically Kings of the Franks, which would eventually evolve into the modern Kingdom of France, they are generally counted as French monarchs which causes confusion with the numbering of the French monarchs named Charles.

If Charlemagne is counted as Charles I of France (which I think he should be) then Charles the Bald should be counted as Charles II of France.

Instead, if the Kingdom of West Francia is considered the start of the Kingdom of France then the number of Kings named and Charles is accurate. Charles the Bald would be counted as Charles I of France, Charles the Fat would be counted as Charles II of France and Charles the Simple would be counted as Charles III of France.

The problem with that is then the number of Kings named Louis would be inaccurate as Louis the Pious is counted as Louis I of France who reigned prior to the creation of the Kingdom of West Francia.

In some lists of the Kings of France both Charles the Fat and Charles the Simple are listed as Charles III of France.

The lists where Charles the Bald is listed as Charles I of France they list Charles the Fat as Charles II of France. There are some lists that omit Charles the Fat entirely. After Charles III the Simple there would not be another King of France by that name until 1322 a full 400 years! Even then Charles IV was known by his sobriquet as Charles the Fair.

In the end all of these mistakes are difficult to reconcile and I have just come to accept that the numbering for the name of Charles is simply off by one.