West Francia

Kingdom of the West Franks

Francia occidentalis
843–987
West Francia within Europe after the Treaty of Verdun in 843.
West Francia within Europe after the Treaty of Verdun in 843.
CapitalParis
Common languagesGallo-Roman, Latin
Religion
Catholic Church
GovernmentMonarchy
King 
• 840–877
Charles the Bald (first)
• 986–987
Louis V of France
Historical eraMiddle Ages
843
870
• Capetian dynasty established
987
CurrencyDenier
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Francia
Lotharingia
Kingdom of France (Middle Ages)

In medieval historiography, West Francia (Latin: Francia occidentalis) or the Kingdom of the West Franks (regnum Francorum occidentalium) was the western part of Charlemagne's Empire, ruled by the Germanic Franks that forms the earliest stage of the Kingdom of France, lasting from about 840 until 987. West Francia was formed out of the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 under the Treaty of Verdun[1] after the death of Emperor Louis the Pious and the east–west division which "gradually hardened into the establishment of separate kingdoms ... of what we can begin to call Germany and France".[2]

West Francia extended further south than modern France, but it did not extend as far east. West Francia did not include such future French holdings as Lorraine, Burgundy, Alsace and Provence in the east and southeast. In addition, by the 10th century the rule of its kings was greatly reduced even within the West Frankish realm by the increase in power of great territorial magnates over their large and usually territorially contiguous fiefs. This process was compounded by wars among those magnates, including against or alongside the Crown, and by foreign invasion. Notably, Normandy was given to the rule of Norse invaders under Rollo as a county and later duchy in return for their willingness to end their raids, and like other great fiefs became largely autonomous of, and more powerful than, the Crown. In Brittany and Catalonia the authority of the West Frankish king was barely felt. West Frankish kings were elected by the secular and ecclesiastic magnates, and for the half-century between 888 and 936 they chose alternately from the Carolingian and Robertian houses.[3] By this time the power of king became weaker and more nominal, as the regional dukes and nobles became more powerful in their semi-independent regions. The Robertians, after becoming counts of Paris and dukes of France, became kings themselves and established the Capetian dynasty after 987, which is, although arbitrary, generally defined as the gradual transition towards the Kingdom of France.

Formation and borders

Map of the division of Francia enacted at Verdun in 843. From Ridpath's Universal History (1895)

In August 843, after three years of civil war following the death of Louis the Pious on 20 June 840, the Treaty of Verdun was signed by his three sons and heirs. The youngest, Charles the Bald, received western Francia. The contemporary West Frankish Annales Bertiniani describes Charles arriving at Verdun, "where the distribution of portions" took place. After describing the portions of his brothers, Lothair the Emperor (Middle Francia) and Louis the German (East Francia), he notes that "the rest as far as Spain they ceded to Charles".[4] The Annales Fuldenses of East Francia describe Charles as holding the western part after the kingdom was "divided in three".[5]

Since the death of King Pippin I of Aquitaine in December 838, his son had been recognised by the Aquitainian nobility as King Pippin II of Aquitaine, although the succession had not been recognised by the emperor. Charles the Bald was at war with Pippin II from the start of his reign in 840, and the Treaty of Verdun ignored the claimant and assigned Aquitaine to Charles.[6] Accordingly, in June 845, after several military defeats, Charles signed the Treaty of Benoît-sur-Loire and recognised his nephew's rule. This agreement lasted until 25 March 848, when the Aquitainian barons recognised Charles as their king. Thereafter Charles's armies had the upper hand, and by 849 had secured most of Aquitaine.[7] In May, Charles had himself crowned "King of the Franks and Aquitainians" in Orléans. Archbishop Wenilo of Sens officiated at the coronation, which included the first instance of royal unction in West Francia. The idea of anointing Charles may be owed to Archbishop Hincmar of Reims, who composed no less than four ordines describing appropriate liturgies for a royal consecration. By the time of the Synod of Quierzy (858), Hincmar was claiming that Charles was anointed to the entire West Frankish kingdom.[8] With the Treaty of Mersen in 870 the western part of Lotharingia was added to West Francia. In 875 Charles the Bald was crowned Emperor of Rome.

The last record in the Annales Bertiniani dates to 882, and so the only contemporary narrative source for the next eighteen years in West Francia is the Annales Vedastini. The next set of original annals from the West Frankish kingdom are those of Flodoard, who began his account with the year 919.[9]