Bernard of Italy

Bernard of Italy

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Bernard was the King of the Lombards from 810 to 818. He plotted against his uncle, Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious , also called the Fair, and the Debonaire, was the King of Aquitaine from 781. He was also King of the Franks and co-Emperor with his father, Charlemagne, from 813...

, when the latter's Ordinatio Imperii made Bernard a vassal of his cousin Lothair
Lothair I
Lothair I or Lothar I was the Emperor of the Romans , co-ruling with his father until 840, and the King of Bavaria , Italy and Middle Francia...

. When his plot was discovered, Louis had him blinded, a procedure which killed him.

Life


Bernard was the illegitimate son of King Pepin of Italy, the second legitimate son of the Emperor Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

. In 810, Pepin died from an illness contracted at a siege of Venice; although Bernard was illegitimate, Charlemagne allowed him to inherit Italy. Bernard married Cunigunda of Laon in 813. They had one son, Pepin, Count of Vermandois
Pepin, Count of Vermandois
Pepin was the first count of Vermandois, lord of Senlis, Péronne, and Saint Quentin. He was the son of King Bernard of Italy and Cunigunda.Pepin first appears in 834 as a count to the north of the Seine and then appears as same again in 840...

.

Prior to 817, Bernard was a trusted agent of his grandfather, and of his uncle. His rights in Italy were respected, and he was used as an intermediary to manage events in his sphere of influence - for example, when in 815 Louis the Pious received reports that some Roman nobles had conspired to murder Pope Leo III, and that he had responded by butchering the ringleaders, Bernard was sent to investigate the matter.

A change came in 817, when Louis the Pious drew up an Ordinatio Imperii, detailing the future of the Frankish Empire. Under this, the bulk of the Frankish territory went to Louis' eldest son, Lothair; Bernard received no further territory, and although his Kingship of Italy was confirmed, he would be a vassal of Lothair. This was, it was later alleged, the work of the Empress, Ermengarde
Ermengarde of Hesbaye
Ermengarde of Hesbaye was Queen of the Franks and Holy Roman Empress as the wife of Emperor Louis I. She was Frankish, the daughter of Ingeram, count of Hesbaye, and Hedwig of Bavaria...

, who wished Bernard to be displaced in favour of her own sons. Resenting Louis' actions, Bernard began plotting with a group of magnates: Eggideo, Reginhard, and Reginhar, the last being the grandson of a Thuringian rebel against Charlemagne, Hardrad. Anshelm, Bishop of Milan and Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans
Theodulf of Orléans
Theodulf of Orléans , was the Bishop of Orléans during the reign of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious...

, were also accused of being involved: there is no evidence either to support or contradict this in the case of Theodulf, whilst the case for Anshelm is murkier.

Bernard's main complaint was the notion of his being a vassal of Lothair. In practical terms, his actual position had not been altered at all by the terms of the decree, and he could safely have continued to rule under such a system. Nonetheless, "partly true" reports came to Louis the Pious that his nephew was planning to set up an 'unlawful' - i.e. independent - regime in Italy.

Louis the Pious reacted swiftly to the plot, marching south to Chalon. Bernard and his associates were taken by surprise; Bernard travelled to Chalon in an attempt to negotiate terms, but he and the ringleaders were forced to surrender to him. Louis had them taken to Aix-la-Chapelle, where they were tried and condemned to death. Louis 'mercifully' commuted their sentences to blinding, which would neutralize Bernard as a threat without actually killing him; however, the process of blinding (carried out by means of pressing a red-hot stiletto to the eyeballs) proved so traumatic that Bernard died in agony two days after the procedure was carried out. At the same time, Louis also had his half-brothers Drogo, Hugh and Theoderic tonsured and confined to monasteries, to prevent other Carolingian off-shoots challenging the main line. He also treated those guilty or suspected of conspiring with Bernard treated harshly: Theodulf of Orleans was imprisoned, and died soon afterwards; the lay conspirators were blinded, the clerics deposed and imprisoned; all lost lands and honours.

Legacy


His Kingdom of Italy was reabsorbed into the Frankish empire, and soon after bestowed upon Louis' eldest son Lothair. In 822, Louis made a display of public penance at Attigny
Attigny, Ardennes
Attigny is a commune on the river Aisne in the arrondissement of Vouziers in the département of Ardennes in the Champagne-Ardenne region in northern France.-Councils of Attigny:In 765, St...

, where he confessed before all the court to having sinfully slain his nephew; he also welcomed his half-brothers back into his favour. These actions possibly stemmed from guilt over his part in Bernard's death. It has been argued by some historians that his behaviour left him open to clerical domination, and reduced his prestige and respect amongst the Frankish
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 nobility. Others, however, point out that Bernard's plot had been a serious threat to the stability of the kingdom, and the reaction no less a threat; Louis' display of penance, then, "was a well-judged gesture to restore harmony and re-establish his authority."

Sources

  • McKitterick, Rosamond, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians
  • Riche, Pierre, The Carolingians
  • McKitterick, Rosamond, The New Cambridge History, 700-900