Gerberga (France)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gerberga of Saxony

Gerberga , sometimes also Gerberga of Saxony , (* 913 in Nordhausen ; † May 5, 969 ) was Duchess of Lorraine and Queen of West Franconia . The eldest daughter of the German King Heinrich I and his second wife Mathilde and thus the sister of Emperor Otto I developed from the role of the wife in a political marriage of convenience to an independent politician who eventually ruled France on behalf of her underage son .


Gerberga was born in 913 at Nordhausen Castle , which was built by Heinrich I in 910. Heinrich was still Duke of the Saxons when she was born, her mother Mathilde was his second wife. Gerberga, which received one of the leading names of the Liudolfing family, was the second child and the eldest daughter of Heinrich from this marriage, only her brother, who later became Emperor Otto I, was older. Nothing is known about Gerberga's youth. It is common for noble daughters and because Gerberga was described as highly educated, it is likely that they were brought up in a women's monastery .

Marriage to Giselbert of Lorraine

Heinrich I married Gerberga in 928 to Duke Giselbert of Lorraine . This marriage was a marriage of convenience that was common at the time. Heinrich enhanced Giselbert's reputation by giving him his daughter as a wife and at the same time tied Lorraine's most powerful nobles to the East Franconian Empire. Lorraine, located on the western border of Eastern Franconia, emerged from the division of Prüm from the Lotharii Regnum , which itself only came into being in 843 together with Eastern and Western Franconia through the division of the Carolingian Empire under the sons of Louis the Pious . Since then it has been a bone of contention between the two Franconian empires. After a temporary division, the area had completely fallen to Eastern France in 880 due to the Treaty of Ribemont . In 911, however, after the death of the last East Franconian Carolingian , Giselbert's father had refused allegiance to the newly elected Konrad I and joined West France. However, Giselbert, Duke from 928 onwards, had also come into conflict with the rulers of the west of Franconia, possibly in order to free his country from its dependency, and after a few political moves and campaigns had finally sworn allegiance to Heinrich I in 925. Gerberga's marriage to Giselbert was part of Heinrich's efforts to bind the newly created duchy to his empire.

It is questionable whether Gerberga had political influence on Giselbert. An 11th century source, the Translatio s. Servatii des Iocundus, represents Gerberga as the driving force behind Giselbert's decision to support the uprising of her younger brother Heinrich against her older brother Otto I, during which Giselbert drowned in the Rhine in 939. Winfrid Glocker does not consider this representation to be credible, however, since Giselbert certainly did not need an influence from his wife in order to pursue his previously pursued goal of a special Lorraine kingdom. However, this source proves that Gerberga did not fulfill the role that Heinrich I intended to bind Giselbert to the Ottonians, but, as Giselbert's wife, campaigned for his goals.

Marriage to Louis IV of France

Due to Giselbert's death, Gerberga was widowed at the age of about 26 and thus fell under the mood of the head of her clan, i.e. that of her older brother Otto I. He planned to marry Gerberga or her daughter to the Duke of Bavaria. However, this did not happen because Gerberga began to make his own political decisions. At first she refused her brother Heinrich, whose uprising collapsed with Giselbert's death, her protection and distanced herself from Giselbert's politics in order to then enter into a new marriage.

Gerberga married Ludwig IV the Overseas , the king of the west of France, who, as the chronicler Richer von Reims reports, was filled with pity for the beautiful widow. Indeed, Ludwig's goals were political. With the marriage, Ludwig laid claim to Lorraine, at the same time he made up a status deficit in relation to his domestic political opponent Hugo von Franzien , who had married Gerberga's sister Hadwig . The name Lothar of the 941 born son Ludwig and Gerberga said programmatically that the claim of the west of Franconia to Lorraine still existed. Ludwig's ambitions in Lorraine failed, however, because of Otto's military superiority. In 942 Ludwig renounced Lorraine for western France. This renunciation is partially attributed to Gerberga's mediation, who acted in the spirit of Ottonian power politics. If Gerberga influenced her husband Ludwig, however, it was more in his own interest: Ludwig IV had domestic political difficulties in gaining a power base against Hugo von Franzien, and his opponents Hugo and Otto had allied themselves. With the peace treaty, Ludwig dissolved Otto from this alliance so that he could concentrate on his domestic political opponent and brother-in-law Hugo.

In 945 Ludwig was captured by the Normans near Rouen, who later handed him over to Hugo. For the release, Hugo demanded the heir to the throne Lothar as hostage and political concessions, in particular the surrender of the very important city of Laon . Because of her husband's imprisonment, Gerberga was Lothar's regent, and she managed to get Ludwig free without completely fulfilling Hugo's demands: instead of Lothar, she held his younger brother Karl hostage. However, she had to give Laon to a vassal of Hugo. Gerberga then convinced Ludwig to turn around politically: She asked her brother Otto for support for the largely disempowered West Franconian kingdom. The alliance situation was reversed, a close alliance developed between Ludwig and Otto that lasted for years. Between 946 and 950 the two kings met five times, at Easter 949 Gerberga was the guest of her brother in Aachen, where he renewed his promise of help. The pressure exerted on Hugo von Franzien by the alliance mediated by Gerberga finally enabled Gerberga in 953 to broker a peace treaty between her husband Ludwig and her brother-in-law Hugo.

The widow's time

Gerberga was buried in the Abbey of Saint Rémi in Reims.

In 954 Ludwig IV fell from his horse and died as a result of the injury. Gerberga was widow and regent of the west of France for the second time, because her son Lothar was not yet capable of governing at the age of 13. In addition, Lothar had to be elected king by the nobility. Gerberga managed to achieve this by asking Hugo von Franzien, her husband's greatest rival, but also her brother-in-law, for support. Gerberga's decision to ask Hugo and not her brother Otto for help was politically far-sighted. Otto's influence in the election of Lothar would have made the West Franconian monarchy completely dependent on the East Franconian. With the request to Hugo, she made her son's kingship dependent on him and admitted her politically weak position. Hugo, who in this situation could have reached for kingship himself, nevertheless supported Gerberga's son Lothar, who became king of France, while Hugo remained the most powerful man in western France until his death in 956.

Hugo's death brought West Franconia into a situation where Gerberga and her sister Hadwig were at the head of the two most powerful families, each representing their sons. Gerberga worked closely with her Liudolfingian relatives in this phase, power in western France was held by her, Hadwig and her younger brother Brun , who held the offices of Archbishop of Cologne and Duke of Lorraine and Otto I in many matters as Chancellor represented, exercised. By leaning on her family, Gerberga secured the status quo in western France until her son Lothar was able to lead the government himself.

Even if Gerberga took over a traditional position for a widow as abbess of Notre-Dame in Soissons from 959 , she remained politically active, in 961 she took care of the successor to the Archbishop of Reims. In 965 she took part in her brother Otto I's court day in Cologne, where her son Lothar entered into a marriage alliance with Otto's step-daughter Emma.

Gerberga died on May 5th, probably in 969, and was buried in the Saint Rémi Abbey in Reims .


Gerberga had a total of eleven children from their two marriages.

From the marriage with Giselbert von Lothringen:

From the marriage with Louis IV of France:

  • Lothar (France) (* 941, † 986), King of France 954, ⚭ 966 Emma of Italy , daughter of King Lothar II of Italy
  • Mathilde (* late 943, † after November 26, 981), ⚭ around 964 Konrad III. King of Burgundy († 993) ( Welfen )
  • Karl (January 945, † before 953)
  • a daughter (name not recorded) (* beginning of 948)
  • Ludwig (* December 948, † before September 10, 954)
  • Karl (* 953, † after 991) Zwilling, Duke of Lower Lorraine (977–991)
  • Heinrich (* summer 953, † soon after baptism) twin


Like her contemporaries Adelheid von Burgund and Theophanu, Gerberga was a highly educated woman who took on political responsibility. Gerberga is mainly treated by German historiography as an Ottonian who worked in the interests of an Ottonian family policy. The French-language historiography sees Gerberga as the person who consolidated the Carolingian rule in western France and maintained it for several decades, making use of her East Franconian family.


Web links

Commons : Gerberga (France)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Nordhausen personalities from eleven centuries . Horb am Neckar, Geiger, 2009. p. 78
  2. Glocker (1989) p. 32.
  3. For the dating see Ferdinand Lot , Les derniers Carolingiens , Paris 1891, p. 62 and note 2; Glocker (1989) p. 272.
predecessor Office Successor
Emma of France West Frankish Queen
Emma of Italy