Bertha (719–783)

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Bertha (719–783)

Queen of the Franks. Name variations: Bertrada, Berthrada; Berthe au grand pied; Bertrada II of Laon. Born in 719; died at Choisy on July 12, 783; daughter of Heribert also known as Caribert, count of Laon; married Pepin III the Short (715–768), mayor of Neustria (r. 741), king of the Franks (r. 747–768), in 741; children: Charles also known as Charlemagne (c. 742–814, who ruled as king of the Franks for 46 years and as Holy Roman emperor for 13 years);Irmentrude (d. 820); Carloman also known as Karlman (c. 751–771);Gisela (c. 753–807).

The mother of Charlemagne was called Berthe au grand pied (Bertha with the large foot), because one foot was greater than the other. Without doubt, her son Charlemagne—Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great, Karl der Grosse—was one of the great figures of medieval Europe. His reign was viewed as a "Golden Age," and he was regarded as one of the Nine Worthies, along with Abraham and Julius Caesar.

In 751, when Bertha's son was only about nine, Pope Stephen II deposed Childeric, king of the Franks, thus ending the Merovingian line, and anointed her husband Pepin the Short as king. When Pepin died in 768, following Frankish custom he was succeeded by his two sons, Charlemagne and Carloman, who became joint kings.

Of Bertha, her daughter Gisela, and her sons' life little is known. Even Einhard, Charlemagne's biographer, who had lived through the reign and began to compose his Life of Charlemagne (Vita Caroli) some 15 years after Charlemagne's death, lamented: "It would be foolish for me to write about Charlemagne's birth and childhood … for nothing is set down in writing about this and nobody can be found still alive who claims to have any personal knowledge of these matters."

Bertha has been celebrated with poems and legends for many centuries. Some romances have made Bertha the daughter of an emperor of Constantinople; others trace her descent from Flore, the king of Hungary, and the queen Blanche-Fleur . One of these rhymed romances, by a French minstrel named Adenès le Roi, was written in the second half of the 13th century from popular legends reaching back to the 8th century. As to Bertha's descendants, Charlemagne married Himiltrude , then Desiderata , the daughter of Desiderius, king of the Lombards, but the marriage was repudiated; he then married Hildegarde of Swabia in 771, and the couple gave birth to Charles, Pepin (king of Italy), Louis the Pious (emperor of the Romans), and others. Following Hildegarde's death in 783, Charlemagne married Fastrada and, later, Luitgard .


Bullough, D. The Age of Charlemagne. 2nd ed. Paul Elek, 1973.

Duckett, E.S. Carolingian Portraits: A Study in the Ninth Century. University of Michigan Press, 1962.

Einhard and Notker the Stammerer. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Translated by L. Thorpe. Penguin (reprint), 1969.

Tierney B. and S. Painter. Western Europe in the Middle Ages, 300–1475. 4th ed. Knopf, 1983.

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Bertha (719–783)

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