Carolingian Empire, Charlemagne, Charles III, Charles the Bald, Charles The Fat, Charles the Great, Charles the Simple, Holy Roman Empire, Kingdom of East Francia, Kingdom of West Francia, Ordinal Numbers
From the Emperor’s Desk: Yesterday I wrote about Charles the Bald, Emperor of the Carolingian Empire, King of Italy and King of West Francia. In the past I’ve written about the subject of the ordinal numbers of the French Kings and I would like to touch on this topic once again.
The numbering of early Frankish Kings can be confusing and even inaccurate. Thus is the case with Charles the Bald.
I have seen some lists where Charles the Bald is listed as Charles I of France. I have also seen where Charles the Bald is called Charles II.
In the early days of both the Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of France many kings and emperors would rule at various places within the empire. With many monarchs going by the names of Louis or Charles and with them ruling an Empire that was constantly being divided it has caused confusion about what ordinal numbers they have.
What complicates the matter even further is how to reference or count Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans, the Father of Europe and the one who started it all.
The name Charlemagne, which the emperor is normally known in English, comes from the French Charles-le-magne, meaning “Charles the Great”. His given name was simply Charles (Latin Carolus, Old High German Karlus, Romance Karlo). He was named after his grandfather, Charles Martel, a choice which intentionally marked him as Martel’s true heir.
The nickname magnus (great) may have been associated with him already in his lifetime, but this is not certain. The contemporary Latin Royal Frankish Annals routinely call him Carolus magnus rex, “Charles the great king”. As a nickname, it is only certainly attested in the works of the Poeta Saxo around 900 and it only became standard in all the lands of his former empire around 1000.
Charlemagne is often listed as Charlemagne instead of Charles the Great without an ordinal. However, in the realms that eventually evolved into the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne is counted as Holy Roman Emperor Charles I; but it is France where the name and number (or lack thereof) is problematic.
In my opinion Charlemagne should be counted as Charles I of France. This would mean that Charles the Bald should be Charles II of France. However, under this method the numbering of kings of France named Charles would be off by one. The last King of France named Charles was Charles X (1826 – 1830). Corrected he would be Charles XI.
What continues to complicate the matter is that those who count Charles the Bald as Charles I of France, instead of Charlemagne, use the 843 Treaty of Verdun as the starting point for the numbering of the French kings.
The problem with using the Treaty of Verdun and Charles the Bald as the starting point for numbering the Kings of France, is that the son and successor of Charles the Bald is counted as Louis II of France. The issue here is that if Louis II is numbered as such, following after Louis I the Pious, who was Emperor/King before the Treaty of Verdun, then why exclude Charlemagne as Charles I of France who was also Emperor/King prior to the Treaty of Verdun? It’s inconsistent.
Moving forward, the issue becomes how to count Charles the Fat? He was Emperor of the Carolingian Empire and the last Carolingian to rule it as a united Empire. He was also King of West Francia (884-887). I have seen lists where he is counted as Emperor Charles III and King Charles III of West Francia, and in some lists he is called Charles II of West Francia (France) and East Francia.
Charles the Fat’s numeral “III” is roughly contemporary. Regino of Prüm, a contemporary of Charles recording his death, calls him “Emperor Charles, third of that name and dignity” (Latin Carolus imperator, tertius huius nominis et dignitatis).
The issue with calling Charles the Fat, “Charles III of France” is because the next Frankish King of West Francia, also named Charles, Charles the Simple, is also called Charles III of France.
I believe this can be reconciled by calling Charles the Fat as Charles II in West Francia and Charles III as Emperor. I guess the same solution can be applied to Charles the Bald. He could be counted as Charles I of West Francia (France) after all West Francia was a new State after the Treaty of Verdun, and Charles II as Emperor of the Carolingian Empire a proto-Holy Roman Empire.
After Charles III the Simple, King of West Francia, there would not be another King of France by that name until 1322 a full 400 years later! Even then Charles IV was known contemporarily by his sobriquet as Charles the Fair.