Charlemagne pieced together the Holy Roman Empire through force of will and military skill. His son and successor, Louis the Pious, struggled to hold the empire together. Multiple civil wars beset his reign from the beginning to the end. By the time of his death, Charlemagne’s heir survived three rebellions with the last one ending shortly before his death. Louis the Pious’ demise signaled the death knell of his empire. The kingdom survived only as long as the king.
In 814, Lous the Pious assumed the throne. Events forced the new king to campaign against the barbarian tribes on the frontier. Four years after his coronation, he returned from battle to discover his wife, Ermengarde, had died in his absence. He remarried in 820 and the union produced a son. The child created a rift between the king and his other three sons. In 829, the king awarded his youngest son his place in the partition. His eldest son, Lothair, rebelled. Initially, the eldest son accused his step mother of infidelity and claimed her progeny a product of an adulterous relationship.
Louis the Pious returned from yet another campaign to discover the treachery. All three of his elder sons, Lothair, Pepin, and Louis the German, had revolted. Pepin captured his unwitting father and stepmother. The elder Louis negotiated his release with Pepin and Louis the German. The king gained his freedom and their loyalty in return for territory. Next, Louis the Pious defeated Lothair and pardoned all three of his sons.
Two years later, Pepin and Louis the German revolted again. The next year, Lothair returned to strike against the emperor. The father met his sons and Pope Gregory IV at Rothfield. The pope sided with Lothair and apparently undermined Louis the Pious on the eve of battle. The imperial army melted away upon Papal encouragement. At the end of 833, the coup forced Louis to admit to his crimes and completely humiliated the emperor. Meanwhile, loyal noblemen struck the insurgents and restored Louis to the throne. The emperor restored Pepin and Louis the German’s inheritance, but cut Lothair’s dramatically in favor of his youngest son, Charles.
Emperor Louis the Pious spent several years responding to Viking raids before he returned to the division of his kingdom. In 837, Charles received a portion of Louis the German’s territory leading to another civil war. In response, the king transferred Louis the German’s holdings to Charles. The conflict between the two Louis’ exploded when Pepin died of natural causes. The nobles supported Pepin’s son, Pepin II, while Louis the Pious tried to expropriate the kingdom for Charles. Pepin II and Louis the German joined forces, invaded the imperial domain, and received unexpected, and uncoordinated, assistance from the Vikings. As the Vikings pillaged, Lothair reemerged to support his father. The timely intervention allowed Louis the Pious one final glorious victory. The victorious emperor disinherited his grandson Pepin II. Louis the German received Bavaria while the rest of the kingdom was split into eastern and western halves. Charles received the west with Lothair choosing the east. Shortly afterward, the emperor dismantled his army and died. The three surviving brothers quickly bickered and launched a new series of civil wars.
Louis the Pious lacked his father’s administrative abilities. Charlemagne ruled with an iron fist and through respect. Louis the Pious faced amazingly dramatic family squabbles his father would never have accepted. In the end, he faced his children in a series of civil wars. Despite some embarrassments and double dealing, the emperor emerged victorious each time. Louis the Pious attempted to placate his children on several occasions, but they proved too greedy, too ambitious, and too short-sighted.