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Article Published December 23, 1999

Charlemagne the Pious and Prolific Progenitor
By Xenia Stanford


Although a Christian should take only one wife even then, Charlemagne had four. He may have been married to only one at a time. However, he also kept five known mistresses throughout his marriages. Charles the Great sired at least eighteen children, only eight of whom were legitimate. He refused to let his daughters marry so he would not lose them but he allowed them numerous affairs out of which came several illegitimate children. In spite of this, he was a deeply devout man.

He was well versed in the scriptures and quoted chapter and verse to those who erred in their ways. He supported the Church through organization and funding but he was also very demanding of its behaviour. Many of his capitularies deal with how the clergy should act and how they should improve their morals. He expected much more of them than of himself. He expected celibacy at a time when even Popes were known for their debauchery. Nuns particularly were victims of his scathing attacks on their whoring.

He also demanded that the Church not tolerate image worship and superstition even though most of the religious hierarchy disagreed with him. He also blasted the clergy in one of his capitularies in 811 for the earthly possessiveness and cheating of their parishioners. He introduced tithing (one tenth of income) to counteract the Church's need against the Church's greed. Charlemagne himself left one-third of his estates to the Church.

Known to be ruthless in his evangelical efforts to bring Christianity to all (even to the beheading of those who refused to be baptized), he was honest and caring in his dealings with his earthly empire and strove to improve the preparation of himself and his subjects for the world beyond life. Years after his death, the Church ignored his worldly indiscretions and beatified him for his contributions.


To this great man we also owe much in terms of genealogical records for he required the church to document baptisms, marriages and wills. Always one for standardization, he insisted the priests record these events diligently and consistently. This was at least the beginning of parish records. Though none have been found dating from this period, Charlemagne reinforced the importance of maintaining documentary evidence, which no doubt contributed to the earliest registers to be uncovered.

The oldest register found so far, which covers the cities of Givry in Saône and Loire (Saône-et-Loire) for the years1334 to 1357, was after the influence of the next great reformer King Louis IX, canonized as Saint Louis. However, Saint Louis definitely drew upon the practices established by his predecessor.

Charlemagne's own secretary Einhard kept a diary or record of the great man's life. Though often it seems exaggerated, it remains a way to understand history as it unfolded. Charlemagne was also the subject of much literature during his time and later, such as the poems of Theobold. In 814 he died at Aachen from pleurisy in the forty-seventh year of his reign with his son Louis already crowned as his successor. He was seventy-two years old but his legacy to history still lives on.


According to some the greatest of all rulers of Francia may not have been French at all. Charlemagne was believed to be mainly German as he was reputed to be blond and spoke German as his primary tongue. The difficulty is, even knowing as much as we know about Charlemagne, we know little about his ancestry and truly what mix of blood ran through his ancestors' veins.

Were the Merovingians French just because they arose from the Frankish people and the Carolingian rulers German? The Franks themselves were Germanic in origin and replaced the Celts who were the first known inhabitants of what is now France. Although the nations of France and Germany became dreaded enemies, I don't think we can separate them so categorically during or before the time of Charlemagne.

As explained in the past issues, Charlemagne arose from the line of chief administrators known as Mayors of the Palace who served under and later over the Merovingian kings. However, despite the hard efforts of genealogists the Carolingian lineage named for Charlemagne can only be truly documented as far back as his 3rd great grandfather. We know his grandfather Pepin d'Herstal or Pepin I (Pippin I to some historians) was the grandson of Pepin the Elder but the generation before and the generation between are unnamed in the histories found to date.

As we can see people, such as the rulers above, were distinguished by "nicknames". No one had surnames at the time and later historians named the dynastic lines after a significant ruler but naming people after some physical attribute, profession or characteristic was certainly prominent then. What is also significant is that many women's names were recorded as well. Thus we know that Pepin d'Herstal was married to a woman named Itta.

Pepin and Itta had three known children. One, a girl named Gertrude, became an abbess and was not known to have any offspring but the other two had descendants. Although the other daughter, Begga, was to produce the most significant heirs, initially the couple's only known son, Grimoald, gained his father's position and title of Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia after Pepin I's death about 639 or 640 AD.

Thus so far we have the following lineage:

Grimoald had a daughter Wulfetrude who became a well-known abbess. Although the actual paternity of another child called Childebert has been questioned, Grimoald claimed him as son and named him in 656 AD as the successor to King Sigebert of Neustria over Sigebert's son and heir Dagobert. Dagobert was exiled to Ireland but his supporters were so angered by the coup they captured and killed Grimoald soon after.

Childebert died in 662 but already the kingdom had been thrown into turmoil with the wars between Neustria and Austrasia and between the Merovingian heirs and the descendants of the powerful mayors. Although Grimoald had a grandson Childebrand whose parents' names are unknown, it was his nephew, son of sister Begga who regained the mayoral supremacy and the rule.

Begga married Ansegisel and produced a son, Pepin or Pippin named for her father. This Pepin (now called Pepin II) had children by at least two women. One of these women was his wife Plectrude and the other his mistress Alpaida.

He married Plectrude around 670 for her inheritance of substantial estates in the Moselle region. They produced at least two children and through them at least two significant grandchildren. These legitimate children and grandchildren claimed themselves to be Pepin's true successors and with the help of his widow Plectrude tried to maintain the position of Mayor of the Palace after their progenitor's death on December 16, 714.

The position of Mayor of the Palace had over the years become one of great significance and with the work of Pepin the Elder and his grandson Pepin d'Herstal it had become as important if not greater than the role of the king. Under Grimoald the land holdings and influence of the Mayor had increased. Pepin II was not satisfied with ruling only Austrasia, thus in 690 he also took over as Mayor of the Palace for Neustrian King Theuderic. Although the king still sat on the throne, the role and title of Mayor as well as Pepin's fortunes in land were inheritances to be coveted.

However, the son of Pepin II and his mistress Alpaida gained favour among the Austrasians and despite the efforts of Plectrude to silence her rival's child by imprisoning him, he became the one Mayor of the Palace and true ruler of Francia. This illegitimate son of Pepin II was Charles Martellus (the Hammer) or Charles Martel whose deeds have been explained in previous issues.

His descent from Begga is as follows:

Like his father, Charles had rival children from two unions, that of his wives: Rotrude and Swanachild. Charles had deposed both kings by 739 and began rule under the title of Princeps or Prince. In 740 he placed his two sons from his first marriage, Pepin III (aka Pepin Le Bref or the Short) and Carloman as the Mayors of the Palaces of Neustria and Austrasia respectively.

Grifo, the son of Charles and second wife Swanachild, was appointed ruler of Thuringia about the same time. However, after Charles death in 741, Grifo's half-brothers banished Swanachild to a convent and imprisoned Grifo.

In 746 Carloman, apparently the more militarily successful of the brothers, resigned as Mayor of Austrasia and went to Rome for monastic training. He placed the Mayoralty into the hands of his young son, Drogo, and asked the boy's uncle Pepin Le Bref to watch over him and the administration of Austrasia. Instead Pepin took over complete control about a year later and in 751 convinced the Pope to make him King of all Franks and his wife Bertrada the Queen. Drogo who continued to protest was thrown into prison by his uncle in 753.

Pepin Le Bref or Pepin the Short had two sons by Bertrada. Charles, the eldest, was born in 748 prior to his parent's marriage. In order to legitimize his son and ensure his succession rather than Drogo's, Pepin married Bertrada in 749. In 751 their second son Carloman (II to distinguish him from his uncle) was born.

After Pepin's death in 768 AD, his two sons split the kingdom once again. The older son Charles was given Austrasia and other lands. Carloman was given various regions but Neustria was not listed by name since it appears to have been divided between the two rather than given in totality to Carloman. This division did not last long as Carloman died on December 4, 771.

Thus the descent from Charles Martel is as follows:

It may be amazing to learn the deaths of these rulers were recorded accurately giving date and place of death and age at death. Fredegar, the historian, used church records from Saint-Denis to find the exact death dates of Pepin II and III as well as Carloman II.

No longer did historians have to live during the time for accurate information nor did they need to rely solely on word of mouth, legends or the writings of others. However, as stated under Charlemagne - Great Boon to Genealogists, we have seen that the records of the Church and of administration were soon to increase even more in frequency and accuracy due to the work of Carloman II's brother Charles, whom we know better as Charlemagne.


Although Charlemagne's son and successor Louis I succeeded in keeping the kingdom together during his lifetime, after he died the empire was divided into three among his sons. The youngest, Charles "the Bald" became Emperor of France, another son, Louis "the German", was crowned King of Germany and Austria and the third, Lothaire, ruled Belgium. From these three Kings came the nations above that continue to exist today though the borders changed over the years.

From their descendants and those of the other many children of Charlemagne come countless numbers who are the progeny of this great man. These may be patriots of any of those three original nations but many can be found elsewhere in the world.

One of the lines for many North Americans descends through Catherine Baillon, a "fille de roi" who came to New France and married Pierre Miville. Baillon's descent from King Philippe II Auguste of France (a descendant of Charlemagne and wife Hildegard) has been carefully researched. The work has primarily been conducted by four genealogists who are all well-known for their past accurate and well-documented works. They are René Jetté, John P. DuLong, Roland-Yves Gagné, and Gail F. Moreau who have a website dedicated to the Baillon genealogy at

This foursome has obtained extensive and expensive documentation from original sources. So far they have written two articles, one in French and one in English, and are currently working on a book to share their findings with us. Although I have not read either article, I know all four through their prior works, contributions to lists and email correspondence. Therefore, I have no hesitation in recommending you read either of the two articles cited below:

René Jetté, John P. DuLong, Roland-Yves Gagné, and Gail F. Moreau. "De Catherine Baillon à Charlemagne." Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française 48 (Autumn), 1997: 190-216 (in French).

René Jetté, John P. DuLong, Roland-Yves Gagné, and Gail F. Moreau. "From Catherine Baillon to Charlemagne." _American-Canadian Genealogist_ 25:4 (Fall 1999): 170-200 (in English).


The connecting line from King Philippe to Charlemagne will be dealt with in a later column.

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