Bertrada

(d. 783)
   The wife of Pippin the Short, the first Carolingian king, and mother of Charlemagne, the first Carolingian emperor, Bertrada surely played an important role in the Carolingian kingdom. At the very least, she fulfilled the traditional role of royal wives by producing an heir; she bore Pippin three sons, two of whom survived, and a daughter. Her activities may well have stretched beyond the traditional to include support for Pippin's religious reforms. She also was involved in diplomacy after her husband's death and strove to maintain peace between her two sons, Charlemagne and Carloman. Her intervention had limited success, but she remained, according to Einhard, the beloved mother of the greatest Carolingian ruler, Charlemagne.
   Pippin and Bertrada were married in 744, but the nature of their relationship, at least at the outset, is confused, in part because of the changing marriage traditions of the realm in the mid-eighth century. It was thought at one time that the two were not legitimately married, but that Pippin took Bertrada as a concubine or in the old Frankish marriage practice of friedelehe. The marriage was only legitimate, according to this view, once Charlemagne was born, in either 742 or 748. It is now generally recognized that in fact the two were formally married and that Charles was not illegitimate. Even though the marriage is now recognized as legitimate, it was not the most stable one. Pippin married Bertrada, as was often the case, for her connections with a powerful noble family, connections that would allow Pippin, as mayor of the palace, to strengthen his hold on the kingdom after the death of his father, Charles Martel. At some point during their marriage Pippin tried to repudiate Bertrada in order to marry another woman, but his efforts were stopped by Pope Stephen II (752-757), and the marriage continued until Pippin's death in 768. Despite his attempt to divorce her, Pippin brought Bertrada along with his entourage when he went to meet Stephen on the latter's visit to the kingdom. And Stephen bestowed a special blessing on Bertrada when he crowned and anointed Pippin and his sons in 754.
   After Pippin's death, Bertrada continued to influence affairs in the kingdom, and her most important moment came early in the reigns of her sons Charlemagne and Carloman. On the death of their father, tensions between the two brothers broke out that threatened the peace and stability of the realm. The strain was worsened by Carloman's refusal to help his older brother suppress a rebellion in Aquitaine. At this point Bertrada intervened in the hopes of preventing civil war and also to strengthen Carolingian power and her sons' diplomatic ties in Bavaria and Italy. In 770, according to the Royal Frankish Annals, Bertrada met with her son Carloman before proceeding to Italy "in the interests of peace" (Scholz 1972, 48). It is possible that she hoped to allay any fears Carloman may have had about his brother or, on the other hand, to upbraid him for his lack of support for his brother. In either event, she went to Italy through Bavaria, where she met with Duke Tassilo.
   The duke had commended himself into vassalage to Pippin in 757, but had failed to honor his oath in 763. Bertrada may have attempted to reconcile Tassilo, and his important and powerful duchy, to her two sons. After meeting with Tassilo, Bertrada went to Lombard Italy to meet with King Desiderius. Allies of the Franks before Pippin's campaigns to protect the pope, the Lombards remained a powerful force in Italy and a potential threat to both the pope and, to a lesser extent, the Carolingians. Bertrada arranged a marriage between the king's daughter, Desiderata, and her son Charlemagne. The apparent success of Bertrada's trip was shattered in the following year with the death of Carloman and the disinheritance of his children, as well as Charlemagne's repudiation of Desiderata.
   The rejection of Bertrada's diplomatic initiative, however, according to Einhard, was the only example of tension between Bertrada and Charlemagne. Einhard notes that Bertrada lived to a "very great age," was honored by Charlemagne, with whom she lived, and was "treated with every respect" by her son (Einhard 1981, 74). She lived to see the birth of three grandsons and three granddaughters to Charlemagne. She died in 783 and, Einhard notes, was buried by her son "with great honor in the church of Saint Denis, where his father lay" (74).
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Einhard and Notker the Stammerer. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1981.
 ♦ 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.
 ♦ Wemple, Suzanne. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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