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Louis the Pious and Judith Augusta: In defense of sacral kingship in the imperium christianum of the early ninth century

Jane Swotchak Ourand, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation seeks to answer two important questions about the reign of Louis the Pious: What was Louis' personal and intellectual conception of the nature of kingship? What political and moral role did his second wife, Judith Augusta, play in support of her husband's position? The author contends that Louis' reign was beset by a power struggle of epic proportions, one that pitted the monarch against the most influential lords of the realm and against the political aspirations of the Frankish Church hierarchy. The root of this struggle was the contradiction between Louis' conviction of the priestly nature of royal power, a concept bequeathed to him by his father Charlemagne and one to which he held tenaciously, and that of the Frankish hierarchy that sought to interpose itself between the monarch and God. Judith supported her husband's position with unstinting loyalty. Her historic reputation is nothing more than the result of personal attacks launched by spokesmen of the Frankish Church in an effort to undermine her credibility, and thus the position of Louis. Only in this century have historians begun to view Judith in a more benign light. The author, however, sees Judith as a more active participant in the affairs of state, as one who wielded real power in support of the Frankish monarchy. The Franks viewed the power of the king to be of a sacral nature; the adoption of that concept by Charlemagne provided the foundation of the renovatio in the Frankish realm. During his reign, the Papacy and the Frankish Church were clearly subservient to the will of the monarch and both were cleverly employed to promote the ideas and policies of Charlemagne's imperium christianum. The reign of Louis the Pious is treated in an episodic manner in keeping with the presentation of that period in the sources. Emphasis is given to the role of the Ordinatio Imperii of 817 since that document, viewed initially by all as a guarantee of imperial unity, provided the Frankish bishops and their allies with a weapon against the monarch. Louis' marriage to Judith and the subsequent birth of their son Charles were the events that endangered the role of the Frankish Church as the arbiter of power in the kingdom. The catalyst came when Louis attempted to provide his new son with a portion of his royal inheritance, a move that contravened the Ordinatio. The author presents a detailed account of the efforts of the Church hierarchy to undermine the concept that the monarch embodied the imperium christianum, not by attacking Louis directly, but by willful attempts to sully the reputation of the monarch's most loyal supporters, especially the empress Judith. In this 'dress rehearsal' for that most infamous of all Church-crown confrontations, the Investiture Controversy, Louis was forced to his own 'Canossa' on three different occasions. The victor of this struggle, the author contends, was undoubtedly Louis, for the duration of his reign and that of Charles II the Bald. The images in contemporary manuscripts from both reigns show the king in direct contact with God; Frankish bishops are not represented in portraits of the king. Even Judith, the empress and indefatigable supporter of the sacral nature of her husband's position, is represented positively and without any reference to the Church hierarchy.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|Religious congregations

Recommended Citation

Ourand, Jane Swotchak, "Louis the Pious and Judith Augusta: In defense of sacral kingship in the imperium christianum of the early ninth century" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9823763.