Louis V of France

Louis V of France
c. 966 – May 22, 987

Louis V of France (West Francia) was born around 966 as the son of Carolingian King Lothar and Queen Emma of Italy. Since the death of Louis I in June 840, the massive Carolingian empire had splintered amongst his descendants. After a century of declining power, the once mighty dynasty built by Charlemagne was a shadow of its former self. By the time Louis was born, the Carolingian French royal family was in its twilight years.

Aware of his family’s vulnerability, King Lothar crowned his son as co-king in 979. A common practice, Lothar performed this act to strengthen Prince Louis’ position as heir. To regain lost Carolingian power in Southern West Francia, the king arranged a marriage for his 15-year-old son to 40-year-old Adelaide of Anjou in 982. Through this marriage, Lothar hoped to gain southern support for the monarchy.

Despite the king’s grand ambitions, Louis’ marriage failed. From the beginning, husband, and wife were badly mismatched. Besides the 25-year age gap, the two led different lifestyles. As a young teenager, Louis indulged in debauchery, which alienated Adelaide. The disdain between the couple led to them barely talking and preferring to spend their time apart. After tricking Louis into visiting Aquitaine in 984, Adelaide abandoned her husband and returned to her family.

King of West Francia

With his marriage annulled, Louis was now free to marry again. Despite the need to produce another heir, the prince never remarried. In 986, Lothar died, and the 20-year-old Louis V became the sole ruler of West Francia. Ill-prepared to rule, the king lacked a political mind and was an experienced leader. Without a strong leader to guide them, the court split into two factions.

One faction, led by his mother, Emma, wanted to renew relations with the Holy Roman Empire. The other faction sought to exploit Emperor Otto III‘s youth and continue Lothar’s plan to expand east. Although initially successful, Queen Emma quickly lost influence to the anti-Ottonian party. To make matters worse, Louis V no longer took his mother’s advice. By the summer of 986, a disgraced Emma was forced to leave court. Her close supporter, Archbishop Adalberon of Reims, also fled.

Initially appointed to the archbishopric by Emperor Otto I, Adalberon had remained an Ottonian supporter after the emperor’s death. Viewing the archbishop’s departure as treason, Louis V turned against him. Demanding Adalberon’s capture, the king had a change of heart in the spring of 987. Arranging an attempt at reconciliation with the archbishop, Louis would not live to see the meeting. While out hunting, the king suffered a fatal fall, resulting in his early death on May 22. Since Louis left behind no legitimate heir, the Carolingian dynasty ended in West Francia.


Louis V of France was an unremarkable ruler. The young king’s reign was brief, and he had little impact on his realm. Unable to govern effectively, Louis was overshadowed by his court’s power-hungry factions. Instead of strengthening the Carolingian dynasty, the king brought about its end in West Francia. Ironically, this event is the only thing worth remembering about the “Do-Nothing King” and his forgettable reign.


Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Louis V. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-V


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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