The Divorce of Lothar II

The Divorce of Lothar II

Christian Marriage and Political Power in the Carolingian World
Karl Heidecker
Translated by Tanis M. Guest

"She declares, so the bishops will write in their report on the council, that she is unworthy to continue as a married woman. 'Before God and his angels' she bares her heart and confesses to them 'every secret relating to the rumor that had arisen.' The 'rumor'—as will become apparent—concerns her sexual relations with her brother. True, the 'inner wound' which she 'confesses' to God and the bishops was not dealt her of her own volition but under duress, but it is in any event so terrible that she no longer feels herself worthy to share a royal or a marital bed or to marry anyone at all. The bishops and abbots allow her, as she had supposedly requested, to enter a convent."—from The Divorce of Lothar II

The Divorce of Lothar II illuminates the origin and development of Western notions of marriage and divorce and the separation of church and state in the context of a notorious royal divorce in late Carolingian Europe. In 857, Lothar II, king of Lotharingia, decided to divorce Theutberga—either because she had allegedly engaged in an incestuous liaison with her brother or simply because Lothar had wished to marry his concubine Waldrada. Karl Heidecker's dramatic and engaging narrative untangles the chaos that resulted: two popes, a host of often quarreling bishops, and Lothar's conniving uncles soon became involved in an epic struggle that did not end even with the death of Lothar.

The extraordinary series of events sheds light on the fact that the laws on marriage and divorce were still uncertain. The Church itself was hardly unified in its approach, and its efforts to formulate and impose rules repeatedly foundered against the political machinations characteristic of the Carolingian world. In The Divorce of Lothar II, Heidecker not only discusses the legal aspects of the case but also pays much attention to the often heavy-handed ways in which the players of the story achieved their goals.

This ninth-century scandal becomes a study of family dynamics, changing values, and the tenuous relationships between kings, nobles, and bishops around the topic of royal marriage. Though the drama ended with no clear resolution of the Church's position, Lothar's quest is revealed as an early chapter in the emergence of the belief that marriage rests on the personal will of the partners, is monogamous, and should not be dissolved.

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