Louis I was born on April 16, 778 in Aquitaine, West Francia (France). As a member of the Carolingian dynasty, he was destined to one day rule. His father, Charlemagne, controlled vast territories. To better govern his lands, Charlemagne decided to create subkingdoms. Each of his three sons would rule a sub-kingdom on their father’s behalf. As a result, Louis became the king of Aquitaine in 781.
King of Aquitaine
Although only three when he ascended, Louis grew into his role. Throughout his thirty-three-year reign, the young king matured into an experienced leader. In 794, Charlemagne arranged for his son to marry Irmingard, daughter of Count Ingram. The count’s familial connection to the Carolingians spanned centuries. Due to this importance, the royal couple’s marriage united both families.
As king, Louis had a particular interest in religious matters. A devoted Christian, the king regularly consulted clerics. He sought to enforce Christian teachings strictly and had an eagerness to hear spiritual advice. Because of this, many religious leaders gained a position in Louis’ government. The promotion of such individuals would be a trend throughout the king’s life.
Holy Roman Emperor
In January 814, Charlemagne’s health declined. After hunting, the emperor began experiencing pain in his side. Eventually, the pain progressed into a fever. On January 28, Charlemagne succumbed to his illness. As his only legitimate living son, Louis inherited his father’s empire. In October 816, Pope Stephen IV officially crowned him as the new Holy Roman Emperor.
Upon his accession, the new emperor enacted his plan to create a Christian empire. Initially, Louis I purged the capital palace of Aachen (Germany) of its prostitutes. Next, the emperor imprisoned his sisters within monasteries. By doing this, he ensured that his sisters remained unmarried and wouldn’t pose a threat to him. After enforcing his religious beliefs in the capital, the emperor shifted his focus to the broader empire.
The Holy Roman Empire’s vast territories contained many cultures and ethnicities. Recognizing this diversity, Louis I sought to unify his people through religion. In 817, the emperor sent forty diplomas throughout the empire. Within these documents, the emperor outlined his vision for a unified Christian society. Acknowledging the differences within his territory, the emperor stressed the importance of religious unity to his subjects.
As a Christian emperor, Louis I wanted to create a strong relationship with the church. To this end, he made an agreement with the pope. Despite his piety, the emperor ensured that the agreement favored the empire over the papacy. Instead of a spiritual leader, the pope would be the emperor’s assistant in religious matters. The pope’s submission allowed Louis to assert his authority at the church’s expense.
Throughout the late 790s to early 800s, the emperor had three sons: Lothair, Pippin, and Louis. Following his father’s example, each son received a subkingdom. As the eldest, Lothair became co-emperor while Pippin and Louis received territories. However, this agreement later proved problematic after the birth of a fourth son.
On June 13, 823, Louis I’s second wife gave birth to Charles. At his wife’s urging, the emperor decided to create a new arrangement. This arrangement granted Charles lands but at the expense of his older brothers. Resenting their step-mother’s interference, Lothair, Pippin, and Louis revolted in 830. The brothers claimed that they wanted to free their father from his wife’s evil influence.
Despite their unity, Louis I’s supporters eventually turned the brothers against each other. By October 830, the emperor emerged victorious against his sons. To appease them, he ordered that the empire be split equally amongst his four sons after his death. Dissatisfied with their father’s decision, the brothers began to plot his downfall.
On June 30, 833, Louis I met with his eldest son Lothair in Alsace, France. The meeting between father and son was intended to promote peace. However, the emperor walked into a trap. When Louis arrived, he faced his three sons, their supporters, and the pope, Gregory IV. The gathering demanded that the emperor admit to his crimes and abdicate his throne. Outnumbered, Louis reluctantly accepted these conditions, and his sons imprisoned him.
Louis I didn’t remain imprisoned for long. By 834, the emperor regained his freedom. After his capture, popular support quickly turned against Lothair, Pippin, and Louis. In response, the brothers released their father. Upon his restoration, the emperor punished those who had rebelled against him. When Pippin died in 838, the emperor confiscated his son’s kingdom of Aquitaine and gave it to Charles.
Although Lothair and Louis protested against the confiscation, they didn’t rebel. Instead, Lothair remained in his Italian kingdom, while the younger Louis stayed in his German lands. During the last five years of his life, the emperor spent his time commanding military campaigns and promoting Christianity. On June 20, 840, the 62-year-old emperor died near Ingelheim.
Louis I inherited the daunting task of maintaining a vast empire that his father had created. Utilizing Christianity, the emperor successfully ruled the Holy Roman Empire for another generation. After his death, Louis’s succession plan split the empire amongst his sons. The plan caused infighting amongst the emperor’s sons and weakened the Carolingian dynasty. In turn, the empire’s fracturing gave rise to the developments of France and Germany.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
Contreni, J. (2020, April 12). Louis I. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-I-Holy-Roman-emperor