Hugo the Great

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Hugo the Great (Latin Hugo Magnus , French Hugues le Grand ; * around 895 ; † June 16, 956 at Dourdan Castle ) was Duke of Franconia or Duke of Franzien ( dux Francorum ) from 936 and as such one of the politically important personalities in late western France.

The nickname Magnus was probably not originally intended as a reference to (political) “greatness”, but was synonymous with Maior in the Latin of that time , which could mean “the greater one” or “the older one”; What was meant was "the elder" to distinguish it from his son of the same name "Hugo the Younger", who later became King Hugo Capet . Nevertheless, the traditional translation "the great" is still in use.


Hugo came from the Robertin family, a family that rivaled the Carolingian royal dynasty at the time . The Robertinians had already provided two Western Franconian kings , Hugo's uncle Odo (888-898) and his younger brother, Hugo's father Robert I , who had been the anti-king for a year (922-923) against the then reigning Carolingian Charles the Simple . Robert died in June 923 fighting Karl in the Battle of Soissons and left Hugo as the only son. Since the followers of Robert won the battle despite his death, they were able to raise a new anti-king against Charles immediately after their victory. As Robert's heir, Hugo had the opportunity to take part, but refused the crown. Then Hugo's brother-in-law Rudolf of Burgundy was elected and crowned on July 13, 923 in Soissons. Just a few weeks later, Heribert II von Vermandois , one of the leaders of the anti-Carolingian aristocratic group, managed to lure Karl the simple into a trap and take him prisoner. Karl remained in custody until his death, and Rudolf was generally recognized as king in the following years.

Hugo took over the numerous counties and other offices and rights that Robert I had held before his accession to the throne when his father was raised to the rank of king, or at the latest on his death; Added to this was the county of Maine , which Rudolf gave him in thanks for his services. Hugo thus largely dominated the region between the Loire and Seine , which was traditionally known as Neustria - with the exception of the area that Charles the Simple had ceded to the Seine- Normans in 911 and the county of Nantes , Hugo's predecessor Robert 921 to the Loire-Normans had to leave (which Hugo confirmed in 927). This accumulation of offices made him one of the most important greats in Rudolf's empire. The last phase of Rudolf's reign (from 927) was marked by military conflicts with Heribert II of Vermandois, with Hugo on the king's side, since Heribert was his most important rival.

When Rudolf died in 936 without leaving a son, Hugo had another chance to ascend the throne, as he had now become the most powerful nobleman in the empire. Again he did not seize the opportunity, but decided to return to the old dynasty and install a Carolingian, the son of Charles the Simple, Ludwig IV the Overseas . In doing so, he wanted to create a counterweight to the threatening power of Heribert II, whose ambition meant that ongoing conflicts could be expected. After Karl's capture, Ludwig was brought to safety in England by his mother, who belonged to the royal house of Wessex , and has now returned at Hugo's invitation. Hugo received Louis in Boulogne , paid homage to him and accompanied him to Laon , where Louis was crowned.

As a reward that Hugo had brought him the throne, Ludwig had to grant the Robertiner a unique position in the empire. Hugo received the rank of "Duke of the Franks" ( dux Francorum ) created especially for him . In a royal charter from 936, Ludwig stated that he was acting on the advice of “our most beloved Hugo, the Franconian Duke, who is the second after us in all our realms”. This meant that Hugo not only retained direct responsibility for his many counties and his other offices and rights, but also “in all kingdoms”, i.e. in all parts of western France, held a position between the king and the subordinate vassals. The question of whether or to what extent this is to be interpreted as a kind of viceroyalty is controversial among historians. On the one hand, the title "Duke of the Franks", in a deliberate analogy to "King of the Franks", the title of the Carolingian, could be related to the whole of western Franconia, i.e. it could include jurisdiction across the whole of the empire; Part of the empire, namely the Duchy of Franzien awarded to Hugo the Great . This included the areas north of the Loire , as far as they had not been left to the Normans. The term “Franconian Duke” was probably ambiguous and could be used in a broader or narrower sense as required. In any case, the Robertiner claimed a position that was comparable to that of the Carolingian house-keepers in the late Merovingian Empire.

At first Ludwig was completely dependent on Hugo and had to support him in the fight against Hugo the Black of Burgundy, a brother of the late King Rudolf. The campaign was successful, Hugo the Great was able to appropriate northern Burgundian areas and especially the city of Sens . But in the following year 937, Ludwig made himself independent of his "guardian". He began his struggle against the superiority of the Robertin, where he allied himself with nobles who were also threatened by the Robertin expansionist, including Hugo the black. Hugo the Great responded with a new alliance policy; he allied himself with his previous opponent Heribert II and secured the goodwill of Otto the Great , whose sister Hadwig he married. In addition, Ludwig incurred Otto's wrath by supporting the uprising of the dukes Giselbert of Lorraine and Eberhard of Franconia against Otto. Ludwig intended to regain the Carolingian ancestral land of Lorraine, which had come under the sovereignty of the East Franconian Empire after the disempowerment of Charles the Simple. After his victory over the rebels, Otto undertook a campaign in western France in 940 to punish Ludwig. In the royal palace of Attigny he received the homage from Hugo the Great and Heribert II. Ludwig's situation had already deteriorated significantly when Hugo the Great and Heribert took the city of Reims and deposed Archbishop Artold, one of Ludwig's most important loyalists. But a complete defeat of Ludwig was not in Otto's interest, who was striving for a balance of power in western France. This is why Otto received Ludwig and Hugo in Visé on the Maas in 942 . At this meeting an agreement was reached to settle the dispute.

In July 945, Ludwig was lured into an ambush in Normandy by his opponents there and finally, although he was able to escape, he was captured. The Normans handed him over to Hugo the Great. As the price for the king's release, Hugo demanded the surrender of the city of Laon, which was Ludwig's center of power. Only when Ludwig's wife, Queen Gerberga , fulfilled this requirement, Ludwig was released (summer 946).

As a result of these events, Ludwig lost so much power and prestige that Otto the Great could no longer remain inactive and again intervened militarily, this time on the side of the Carolingian. In the autumn of 946 a large army of Otto moved west and united with Ludwig's forces. Hugo avoided a field battle, his troops holed up in the cities. The army of the two kings could not take Laon, Senlis, Paris and Rouen, but they succeeded in conquering Reims, where they reinstated the expelled Archbishop Artold.

Now Hugo's opponents took action against him with ecclesiastical weapons. In June 948, West Franconian, Lorraine and East Franconian bishops met in Ingelheim under the chairmanship of a papal legate in the presence of Otto and Ludwig for a synod. They condemned Hugo both for his actions against Ludwig and for the expulsion of Artold from Reims. At subsequent synods, Hugo was excommunicated with his followers, and the excommunication was even confirmed in 949 by Pope Agapet II . In the same year Ludwig was able to recapture the city of Laon in a nightly surprise attack; only the citadel remained in the hands of Hugo's forces. The support of the West Franconian nobles for Hugo crumbled. Finally, in 950, Duke Conrad the Red of Lorraine brokered a peace treaty between Ludwig and Hugo on behalf of Otto the Great. Hugo gave the citadel of Laon to the king.

When Ludwig died surprisingly on October 10, 954 as a result of a riding accident, Hugo did not want to become king again. He met with Ludwig's widow Gerberga, and they agreed that only the older of Ludwig's two surviving sons, the thirteen-year-old Lothar , should succeed him. Lothar was consecrated in Reims on November 12, 954. This time the reward for Hugo's cooperation was even more generous than before. Not only did he keep his duchy of France, but two other large parts of the empire, Burgundy and Aquitaine , were also given to him; that is, their previous dukes were to become Hugo's vassals. This project was successfully implemented in Burgundy; Duke Giselbert accepted his new status as Hugo's vassal and married him. Hugo's eleven-year-old son Otto was married to Giselbert's daughter Luitgard, the heiress of the duchy, so that when Giselbert died on April 8, 956, Hugo became sole master of Burgundy. The situation in Aquitaine was more difficult, where Lothar and Hugo had to undertake a campaign to force the local Duke Wilhelm into submission; the company was only partially successful militarily and brought no political gain, so that Hugo's rule over Aquitaine remained nominal.

Hugo died in June 956 and was buried in the tomb of the French kings, the Saint-Denis basilica . He left behind five children, some of whom were still minors, from his third marriage, as well as an illegitimate son who embarked on a spiritual career. His wife Hadwig took over the guardianship together with her brother Brun , the Archbishop of Cologne.

When the royal tombs of Saint-Denis were sacked during the French Revolution , his tomb was opened and looted on October 18, 1793, and his remains were buried in a mass grave outside the church.


Hugo married a third time in 938, after the death of his second wife Edhild, daughter of the English king Edward the Elder and sister of King Æthelstan , as both previous marriages had remained childless. His third wife was Hadwig , daughter of the German King Heinrich I and sister of Emperor Otto I. His children were:


  • Walther Kienast : The title of duke in France and Germany. (9th to 12th centuries). With lists of the oldest German duke deeds . Oldenbourg, Munich et al. 1968.


  1. Walther Kienast: Magnus = der Elder , in: Historische Zeitschrift , Vol. 205 (1967), pp. 1-14.
predecessor Office successor
Hugo I. Duke of Burgundy
Hugo I. Count of Sens
936 / 940-956
Rainald I the Old