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The Ordinance of Louis the Pious

Division of the Empire of the Year 817

[Henderson Note The document by which Louis the Pious decreed the division of the empire among his three sons, one of whom, however, was to bear the title of emperor and exercise a supervision over the other two. This was a compromise between the unity of the indivisible imperial power and the received principles of heredity. The greatest advocates of unity had been the clergy, who looked upon the original establishment of the empire as the work of their head, the Pope. It was, therefore, from them that the greatest opposition came when, twelve years later, a new son having in the meantime been born to him, Louis tried to nullify the document here given and to undo his own work. Again and again did the luckless emperor have to suffer for trying to disregard an agreement, drawn up and sanctioned, as this had been, by the nobles, the higher clergy and the pope. It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader of how the latter used his personal influence in favour of the elder sons, and of how on the Field of Lies, he successfully exercised his powers of seduction on the troops of the emperor. After Louis's death the principles of heredity conquered at last the spirit of unity. By the treaty of Verdun (843)- of which unfortunately no authentic document remains- the three separate kingdoms were called into being which afterwards developed into France, Italy and Germany. The empire waned away, but did not die, although for a time the emperors were little more than petty local potentates. It was reserved for Otto the Great to restore it to its pristine glory. ]

In the name of the Lord God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Louis, the divine power ordaining, august emperor. While we in the name of God, in the year 817 of the incarnation of the Lord, in the tenth indiction, and in the fourth year of our reign, in the month of July, had assembled in our palace at Aix in our accustomed manner a sacred synod and the generality of our people to treat of ecclesiastical needs and the needs of our whole empire, and were intent upon these,-suddenly, by divine inspiration, it came about that our faithful ones warned us that, while we still remained safe and peace on all sides was granted by God, we should, after the manner of our forefathers, treat of the condition of the whole kingdom and of the case of our sons. But although this admonition was devoutly and faithfully given, nevertheless it seems good neither to us nor to those who know what is salutary' that for the love or for the sake of our sons the unity of the empire preserved to us by God should be rent by human division; lest by chance from this cause a scandal should arise in the holy church and we should incur the offending of Him in whose power are the laws of all kingdoms. Therefore we thought it necessary that by fastings and prayers and the giving of alms we should obtain from Him that which our infirmity did not presume. Which being duly performed for three days, by the will of Almighty God, as we believe, it was brought about that both our own wishes and those of our whole people concurred in the election of our beloved first-born Lothar. And so it pleased both us and all our people that he, thus manifested by the divine dispensation, being crowned in solemn manner with the imperial diadem, should, by common wish, be made our consort and successor to the empire if God should so wish. But as to his other brothers, Pippin, namely, and Louis our namesake, it seemed good by common counsel to distinguish them by the name of kings, and to fix upon the places named below, in which after our decease they may hold sway with regal power under their elder brother according to the clauses mentioned below, in which are contained the conditions which we have established among them. Which clauses, on account of the advantage of the empire, and of preserving perpetual peace among them, and for the safety of the whole church, it pleased us to deliberate upon with all our faithful ones; and having deliberated, to write down; and having written down, to confirm with our own hands: so that, God lending His aid, as they had been passed by all with common consent, so by common devotion they should be inviolably observed by all, to the perpetual peace of themselves and of the whole Christian people; saving in all things our imperial power over our sons and our people, with all the subjection which is exhibited by a father to his sons and to an emperor and king by his people.

1. We will that Pippin shall have Aquitania and Gascony, and all the March of Toulouse, and moreover four counties: namely, in Septimania Carcassone, and in Burgundy Autun, l'Avalonnais and Nevers.

2. Likewise we will that Louis shall have Bavaria and Carinthia, and the Bohemians, Avars, and Slavs, who are on the eastern side of Bavaria; and furthermore, two demesne towns to do service to him, in the county of Nortgau, Lauterburg and Ingolstadt.

3. We will that these two brothers, who are called by the name of king, shall possess power of themselves to distribute all honours within the range of their jurisdiction; provided that in the bishoprics and abbeys the ecclesiastical order shall be held to, and in giving other honours, honesty and utility shall be observed.

4. Likewise we will, that once a year, at a fitting times either together or individually, according as the condition of things allows, they shall come to their elder brother with their gifts, for the sake of visiting him, and seeing him, and treating with mutual fraternal love of those things which are necessary, and which pertain to the common utility and to perpetual peace. And if by chance one of them, impeded by some inevitable necessity, is unable to come at the accustomed and fitting time, he shall signify this to his elder brother by sending legates and gifts; so, nevertheless, that at whatever suitable time it may be possible for him, he shall not avoid coming through any feigned excuse.

5. We will and order that the elder brother, when one or both of his brothers shall come to him, as has been said, with gifts, shall, according as to him, by God's will, greater power has been attributed, likewise himself remunerate them with pious and fraternal love, and a more ample gift.

6. We will and order that the elder brother shall, either in person, or through his faithful envoys and his armies, according as reason dictates and time and occasion permits send help to his younger brothers when they shall reasonably ask him to come to their aid against external nations.

7. We likewise will that without the counsel and consent of the elder brother they by no means presume to make peace with, or engage in war against, foreign nations, and those that are hostile to this empire, which is in the care of God.

8. But as to envoys, if such are sent by external nations either for the sake of making peace, or engaging in war, or surrendering castles, or of arranging any other important matters, they, the younger brothers, shall by no means give them an answer without the knowledge of the elder brother, nor shall they send them away. But if envoys shall be sent to him from any place, he of the younger brothers to whom they shall first come, shall receive them with honour, and shall cause them, accompanied by faithful envoys, to come into his (the older brother's) presence. But in minor matters, according to the nature of the embassy, they may answer of themselves. But we add this warning, that in whatever condition affairs within their confines may be, they shall not neglect to keep their elder brother always informed, that he may be found always interested and ready to give his attention to whatever things the necessity and utility of the kingdom shall demand.

9. It seems best for us also to require that after our decease the vassal of each one of the brothers, for the sake of avoiding discord, shall have a benefice only in the domain of his ruler, and not in that of one of the others. But his own property and heritage, wherever it be, each one may possess according to his law, and without unjust interference, justice being observed, with honour and security; and each free man who has not a lord shall be allowed to commend himself to whichever of the three brothers he may wish.

10. But if, what God avert and what we least of all wish, it should happen that any one of the brothers, on account of desire for earthly goods, which is the root of all evils, shall be either a divider or oppressor of the churches or the poor, or shall exercise tyranny, in which all cruelty consists: first, in secret, according to the precept of God, he shall be warned once, twice, and thrice, through faithful envoys, to amend; and if he refuse them, being summoned by one brother before the other he shall be admonished and punished with fraternal and paternal love. And if he shall altogether spurn this healthful admonition, by the common sentence of all it shall be decreed what is to be done concerning him; so that him whom a healthful admonition could not recall from his wicked ways, the imperial power and the common sentence of all may coerce.

11. But the rulers of the churches of Francia shall have such power over the possessions of the same, whether in Aquitania or in Italy, or in other regions and provinces subject to this empire, as they had in the time of our father, or are known to have in our own.

12. Whatever of tribute, moreover, and rents and precious metals can be exacted or obtained within their confines, they shall possess; so that from these they may provide for their necessities, and may the better be able to prepare the gifts to be brought to their elder brother.

13. We will, also, that if to any one of them, after our decease, the time for marrying shall come, he shall take a wife with the counsel and consent of his elder brother. This, moreover, we decree shall be guarded against, for the sake of avoiding discords and removing harmful opportunities: that any one of them shall presume to take a wife from external nations. But the vassals of all of them, in order that the bonds of peace may be drawn more closely, may take their wives from whatever places they wish.

14. But if any one of them, dying, shall leave lawful children, his power shall not be divided among them; but rather the people, coming together in common, shall elect one of them who shall be pleasing to God; and this one the elder brother shall receive as a brother and a son, and, himself being treated with paternal honour, shall observe this constitution towards him in every way. But in the matter of the other children they shall, with pious love, discuss how they may keep them and give them advice, after the manner of our parents.

15. But if any one of them shall die without lawful children, his power shall revert to the elder brother. And if he shall happen to have children from concubines we exhort the elder brother to act mercifully towards them.

16. But if at our death either of them shall happen not yet to be of lawful age according to Ripuarian law, we will that, until he arrive at the established term of. years, just as now by us, so by his elder brother, both himself and his kingdom shall be cared for and governed. And when he shall come to be of lawful age, he shall in all things possess his power according to the manner laid down.

17. But to our son, if God will that he be our successor the kingdom of Italy shall in the aforesaid manner be subject in all things, just as it was subject to our father, and remains subject in the present time to us, by the will of God.

18. We exhort also the devotion of our whole people and that firmness of a most sincere faith, the fame of which has spread among almost all nations, that if our son, who by the divine ale shall succeed to us, shall depart from this life without legitimate heirs, they shall, for the sake of the salvation of all, and the tranquillity of the church and the unity of the empire, follow the conditions that we have made in the matter of his election, and elect one of our sons, if they shall survive their brother; so that in choosing him they shall seek to fulfil, not a human will, but the will of God.

Source: (Altmann und Bernheim, " Ausgewahlte Urkunden," p. 12. Berlin, 1891.

Ernest F Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages ( London : George Bell and Sons, 1896.)

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