Widukind

(d. c. 807)
   Westphalian nobleman who led a serious rebellion against Charlemagne. Widukind managed to rally the pagan Saxons against Carolingian religious and political expansion. The severity of his rebellion threatened Carolingian efforts and caused great difficulties for Charlemagne. Widukind's eventual conversion to Christianity was a key moment in the long Carolingian struggle to conquer and convert the Saxon people.
   Shortly after his rise to power as king and the death of his brother, Charlemagne began the conquest of Saxony. Although it began as a response to cross-border raiding by the Saxons, the campaign in Saxony quickly turned into a more serious venture. Indeed, Charlemagne began to look upon the conquest and conversion to Christianity of the pagan Saxons as part of his responsibility as king. The conquest of Saxony ended by taking some thirty years to complete (772-804) and involving some of Charlemagne's most terrible actions, including the deportation of large numbers of Saxons from their homeland to the heart of Frankish territory. The Saxons themselves were poorly organized and lacked any unifying institutions, which made the process all the more difficult, especially since they were intent on preserving their independence and religious traditions.
   The Saxons struggled to prevent Charlemagne from conquering them, and the most effective leader against Carolingian incursion into Saxony was Widukind. In 778 Widukind, taking advantage of Charlemagne's absence from Saxony to campaign in Spain, led a massive revolt against Carolingian authority. Unifying the Saxons for the moment, Widukind managed to retake important territory along the Rhine River and even planned to attack the important Carolingian monastery of Fulda. Responding with great urgency, Charlemagne returned from Spain to restore order in the region. His generals waged two further campaigns in 779 and 780 to quell the rebellion. In 782, Charlemagne held a great assembly to organize the region and establish religious institutions there. According to the Royal Frankish Annals, many Saxons participated in this assembly, but Widukind did not participate because he remained in rebellion.
   After Charlemagne's return to his kingdom, Widukind led the Saxons in revolt again and routed the armies established by Charlemagne in Saxony. The churches and monasteries established by the Carolingian king were destroyed, and the priests and monks were attacked and killed. In a great rage, Charlemagne returned and massacred 4,500 Saxons at Verdun in an effort to suppress the rebellion. His efforts failed, and Widukind and his followers struggled on. Charlemagne also issued his first Saxon Capitulary at that time, which sought to impose Christianity on the Saxons by force. Charlemagne's continued pressure on the Saxons in the mid-780s, however, wore Widukind down, and in 785 he submitted to his Carolingian rival. In 785, Widukind and his son accepted baptism. Although the conquest of Saxony took another twenty years to complete, the submission and conversion of Widukind was a significant step in the process and ended the most serious challenge to Charlemagne's conquest.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Collins, Roger. Charlemagne. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
 ♦ Einhard and Notker the Stammerer. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1981.
 ♦ Fichtenau, Heinrich. The Carolingian Empire. Trans. Peter Munz. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.
 ♦ Halphen, Louis. Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire. Trans. Giselle de Nie. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1977.
 ♦ McKitterick, Rosamond. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987. London: Longman 1983.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
 ♦ Scholz, Bernhard Walter, trans. Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard's History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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