Thursday, July 10, 2014

Royal Divorce in the Middle Ages

In a previous post I discussed medieval divorce.  Here I give a couple examples of famous divorces that helped shape medieval marriage and divorce law.

Marriage was just becoming a sacrament in the ninth century when King Lothar II decided to divorce his wife, Tetburgis, and instead marry Waldrada, his former concubine.  Tetburgis was of a much more powerful family than the relatively low-born Waldrada, so the marriage had made sense originally.  But after several years in which Tetburgis did not get pregnant--although Waldrada had produced a son for the king--Lothar decided to elevate the girl he'd always liked.

At this point the bishops jumped all over him.  Marriage was permanent, they said.  So Lothar had to find a way to get Tetburgis out of the way.  First she was bribed to say she wanted to become a nun and had never willingly given her oath of marriage in the first place, but this only worked until she changed her mind.  (Two centuries later, one spouse entering the church would have required both spouses to enter the church, but the ninth century was still figuring this out.)

Then Lothar accused Tetburgis of adultery.  When this did not win him the desired divorce, he upped it to incestuous adultery with her brother.  When even this didn't work, he tried incestuous adultery in an unnatural position which had made her give birth to a monstrous fetus, explaining why she couldn't get pregnant now.  Unfortunately, no one believed him.  The case involved bishops, the pope, other kings, and all the relatives.  Only Lothar's death ten years later ended the excitement.

Two centuries later, at the end of the eleventh century, King Philip I of France also ran into trouble when he tried to get a divorce.  He and his queen, Bertha of Holland, had successfully produced a son, the future Louis VI.  But then Philip took a dislike to Bertha and accused her of being "too fat."  This was rich, coming from Philip, who himself got so fat he was unable to ride a horse.  (Louis VI was later nicknamed "the Fat."  Hormones.)

Instead Philip hooked up with Bertrada, wife of the count of Anjou.  The count of Anjou was understandably furious and wrote a long treatise on the history of the counts of Anjou, whose subtext was that his family was wonderful and the royal line was degraded incompetents.  If this was supposed to win Bertrada back, it didn't work.  The bishops and eventually the pope also got on Philip's case.  He was even excommunicated at one point for refusing to listen to the church; being excommunicated did have the advantage of getting him out of going on the First Crusade.  Finally he promised the pope to give up Bertrada "right away."  In fact he did no such thing, but the pope was fighting the German king at this point and worrying about the Crusade, so he turned a blind eye, so Philip, Bertrada, and their children continued as a happy family.

Louis VI, who took over effective governance of France during the final years of his father's life, was not happy about this, however, especially since Bertrada apparently tried at one point to poison him.

Coming up soon, more royal divorces.

© C. Dale Brittain 2014

For medieval marriage, divorce, and so much more, see my ebook, Positively Medieval:  Life and Society in the Middle Ages.

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