From the Emperor’s Desk: in this examination of the life of Robert II, King of the Franks, I will mostly examine his three marriages.
Robert II (ca. 972 – 20 July 1031), called the Pious (French: le Pieux) or the Wise (French: le Sage), was King of the Franks from 996 to 1031, the second from the Capetian dynasty.
In contrast of his father, the exact date or birth place of Robert II is unknown, although historians advocated for the year 972 and the city of Orléans, the capital of the Robertians from the 9th century. The only son of Hugh Capet and Adelaide of Aquitaine, he was named after his heroic ancestor Robert the Strong, who died fighting the Vikings in 866. In addition to him, his parents’ marriage produced two other daughters whose parentage is confirmed by contemporary sources without any doubt: Hedwig (wife of Reginar IV, Count of Hainaut) and Gisela (wife of Hugh I, Count of Ponthieu).
Crowned Junior King in 987, he assisted his father on military matters (notably during the two sieges of Laon, in 988 and 991). His solid education, provided by Gerbert of Aurillac (the future Pope Sylvester II) in Reims, allows him to deal with religious questions of which he quickly becomes the guarantor (he heads the Council of Saint-Basle de Verzy in 991 and that of Chelles in 994). Continuing the political work of his father, after became sole ruler in 996, he managed to maintain the alliance with the Duchy of Normandy and the County of Anjou and thus was able to contain the ambitions of Count Odo II of Blois.
Robert II distinguished himself with an extraordinarily long reign for the time.
Immediately after associated his son to the throne, Hugh Capet wanted Robert II to marry a royal princess but due the prohibition to marry people within the third degree of consanguinity, obliges him to seek in the East. He had a letter wrote by Gerbert of Aurillac asking the Byzantine Emperor Basil II the hand of one of his nieces for Robert II; however, no Byzantine response is recorded.
After this rebuffal, and under the pressure from his father (who apparently wanted to reward the Flemish help he received when he seized power in 987), Robert II had to marry with Rozala, daughter of Berengar II of Ivrea, King of Italy and widow of Arnulf II, Count of Flanders. The wedding, celebrated before 1 April 988, brings to Robert II the possession of the cities of Montreuil and Ponthieu and a possible guardianship over the County of Flanders given the still young age of Rozala’s son Baldwin IV, for whom she already acted as regent since her first husband’s death.
Upon her marriage, Rozala became in Junior-Queen consort of the Franks and took the name of Susanna; however, after about three or four years of marriage (c. 991–992), the young Robert II repudiates his wife, due to the excesive age difference between them (Rozala was almost 22 years older than him), and probably too old to have more children.
The marriage was formally annulled in late 996, following Hugh Capet’s death and Robert II’s ascension as sole King of the Franks.
Now, Robert II was determined to find a bride who would give him the much hoped-for male offspring. In early 996, probably during the military campaign against Count Odo I of Blois, he met Bertha of Burgundy, the daughter of King Conrad of Burgundy and his wife Matilda, daughter of King Louis IV of the Franks and Gerberga of Saxony (sister of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor), so was from an undisputed royal lineage. Bertha was first married to Count Odo I of Blois in about 983. They had several children, including Odo II.
Robert II and Bertha quickly became attracted to each other, despite the complete resistance of Hugh Capet (the House of Blois was the great enemy of the Capetian dynasty). However, Robert II sees in addition to his personal feelings, also a territorial gain since Bertha would bring all the Blois territories. The deaths in 996 of Odo I of Blois (March 12) and Hugh Capet (October 24) eliminated the main obstacles for a union between Robert II and Bertha.
However, two important details are opposed to this union: firstly, Robert II and Bertha are second cousins (their respective grandmothers, Hedwig and Gerberga, are sisters), and secondly, Robert II was the godfather of Theobald, one of the sons of Bertha. According to canon law, marriage is then impossible. Despite this, the two lovers began a sexual relationship and Robert II puts part of the County of Blois under his direct rule.
Robert II and Bertha quickly found complacent bishops to marry them off, which Archambaud de Sully, Archbishop of Tours, did in November/December 996, much to the chagrin of the new Pope Gregory V. To please the Holy See, Robert II annuls the sentence of the Council of Saint-Basle, frees Archbishop Arnoul and restores him to the episcopal see of Reims. Gerbert of Aurillac then had to take refuge with Emperor Otto III in 997. Despite this, the Pope ordered Robert II and Bertha to put an end to their “incestuous union”.
Finally, two councils meeting first in Pavia (February 997) then in Rome (summer 998) condemn them to do penance for seven years, and in the event of non-separation, they would be struck with excommunication. Moreover, at the end of three years of union, there are no living descendants: Bertha gave birth only one stillborn son, in 999. That year, the accession of Gerbert of Aurillac to the Papacy under the name of Sylvester II does not change anything. Following a synod, the new Pope accepted the condemnation of the King of the Franks whose “perfidy” he had suffered. Finally, the seven years of penance are completed around 1003.
Despite the threat of excommunication, Robert II and Bertha refused to submit until September 1001, when they finally became separated. The inability of Bertha to produce further offspring after her stillbirth would be probably one of the main reasons for this. Robert II, in need of male heirs, decided to remarry one more time.
After September 1001 and certainly before August 25, 1003, Robert II contracted his third and last marriage, this time with a distant princess he had never met to avoid any close relationship, the 17-years-old Constance, daughter of Count William I of Arles and Provence and his wife Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou. The new Queen’s parents were prestigious in their own right: Count William I was nicknamed “the Liberator” (le Libérateur) thanks to his victories against the Saracens, whom definitely expelled from the Fraxinet fortress in 972, and Countess Adelaide-Blanche was notorious by her several marriages (in the third one, she was briefly Queen of Aquitaine and junior Queen of the West Franks as the wife of King Louis V, whom she abandoned) and also she was the paternal aunt of Count Fulk III of Anjou, so thanks to his new marriage, Robert II could restore the alliance with the House of Ingelger.
But Constance would be a royal consort who does not make the King happy. The Queen’s personality gives rise to unfavorable comments on the part of the chroniclers: “vain, greedy, arrogant, vindictive”; these misogynist remarks, made by monks, where quite exceptional especially to a Queen in the 11th century. The only positive point is that Constance gives birth a large number of offspring. Six children born from her marriage to Robert II are recorded.
The conflict that lead to an attempt to annull this third union all started at the beginning of the year 1008, a day when the King and his faithful Count palatine Hugh of Beauvais were hunting in the forest of Orléans. Suddenly, twelve armed men appear and throw themselves on Hugh before killing him under the eyes of the king. The crime was ordered by Count Fulk III of Anjou and with all probability supported by the Queen.
Robert II, exasperated by his wife after six or seven years of marriage (c. 1009–1010), goes personally to Rome accompanied by Angilramme (a monk from Saint-Riquier) and Bertha de Burgundy. His plan was, of course, to obtain from Pope Sergius IV the annulment from his marriage with Constance and remarry with Bertha, whom Robert II still loved deeply, under the grounds of Constance’s participation in the murder of Hugh of Beauvais.
Odorannus, a Benedictine monk from the Abbey of Saint-Pierre-le-Vif in Sens, explains in his writings that, that during her husband’s journey to Rome, Constance withdrew in distress to her dominions at Theil. According to him, Saint Savinian would have appeared to him and secured that the royal marriage would be preserved; three days later, Robert II was back, definitively abandoning Bertha.
At Constance’s urging, her eldest son Hugh Magnus was crowned co-king alongside his father in 1017. But later Hugh demanded his parents share power with him, and rebelled against his father in 1025. Constance, however, on learning of her son’s rebellion was furious with him, rebuking him at every turn. At some point Hugh was reconciled with his parents but shortly thereafter died, probably about age eighteen. The royal couple was devastated; there was concern for the queen’s mental health due to the violence of her grief.
Robert and Constance quarrelled over which of their surviving sons should inherit the throne; Robert favored their second son Henry, while Constance favored their third son, Robert. Despite his mother’s protests and her support by several bishops, Henry was crowned in 1027. Constance, however, was not graceful when she didn’t get her way. The ailing Fulbert, bishop of Chartres told a colleague that he could attend the ceremony “if he traveled slowly to Reims—but he was too frightened of the queen to go at all”.
Constance encouraged her sons to rebel, and they began attacking and pillaging the towns and castles belonging to their father. Her son Robert attacked Burgundy, the duchy he had been promised but had never received, and Henri seized Dreux. At last King Robert II agreed to their demands and peace was made which lasted until the king’s death.
Robert II died on July 20, 1031 and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son as King Henri I of the Franks.
Constance died after passing out following a coughing fit on July 28, 1032 and was buried beside her husband Robert at Saint-Denis Basilica.
His 35-year-long reign was marked by his attempts to expand the royal domain by any means, especially by his long struggle to gain the Duchy of Burgundy (which ended in 1014 with his victory) after the death in 1002 without male descendants of his paternal uncle Duke Henri I, after a war against Otto-William of Ivrea, Henri I’s stepson and adopted by him as his heir. His policies earned him many enemies, including three of his sons.
Robert II’s life is presented as a model to follow, made of innumerable pious donations to various religious establishments, of charity towards the poor and above all of gestures considered sacred, such as the healing of certain lepers: Robert II is the first sovereign considered to be the first “miracle worker”.
The real reconstruction of his action in the Kingdom of the Franks is very difficult to pinpoint as the sources are flattering towards him (hagiographic conception of Helgaud). On the contrary, this was considered by some later historians that Robert II’s reign was a continuation of a decline that began under the last Carolingians; in reality, the charters of the first third of the 11th century rather show a slow adjustment of structures in time. In any case, Robert II, Capetian follower of Carolingian values, remains a great character in the 11th century.