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Oct. 21, 2022

Ranking the Carolingians with Battle Royale: French Monarchs

Ranking the Carolingians with Battle Royale: French Monarchs

Ben of Battle Royale: French Monarchs joins the podcast to rank the Carolingians.


GaryThank you very much for being on the show Ben. I am so excited to have you on. Quite a while ago I ranked the Merovingian monarchs from worst to best, and now we are going to do the same with the Carolingian monarchs. And here I have a slightly different Ben than the last one that was on. Last time we had Ben from Thugs and Miracles. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a hold of Ben. We hope you’re doing well. However, there is another Ben who is doing a French history podcast, not The French History Podcast, but a French History Podcast. Ben, could you please introduce yourself and your podcast?

BedYes, Hello, my name is Ben Clarke, well backup Ben. I guess on this podcast.

Gary: (laughter) You’ve have been upgraded to Primary Ben.

BenYeah, I host the podcast Battle Royale, where we pass judgements. Me and my friend Eliza pass judgment on all of the kings and emperors of France. Very similar to if you’ve ever heard of the podcast Rex Factor. That’s kind of who we’re based on. They do the same thing with the British monarchs, but basically our entire job is to rank the monarchs and give them all ratings in different categories. And then at the end of each episode, we decide whether or not they deserve the guillotine or whether they get to go to a final playoff tournament where we decide who’s the best one. So, yeah, we’ve done all the Carolingians already. We were about halfway through the Capetians. We just released Louis VI, which was an interesting one, definitely. And we did we did a special one on Eleanor of Aquitaine as well. So go check that out. If you if you want to jump straight in or you can go back and listen to all the old ones. We go all the way back to Clovis. So yeah.

GaryAbsolutely. And I will include a link to your show. And I want to thank you for providing your voice to my Norman Conquest episode. You read one of the quotes, so I have to start out this episode by admitting that the title of the episode is a bit of a lie. We are not just ranking the Carolingian monarchs. I am hoping to eventually, however long this podcast may take, rank all of the leaders of France and so in order to do that, we are also going to include Charles Martel in our list, who was not the King of France, but he basically was I mean, he was king in all but name. So we’re including him. We are also ranking the usurper monarchs who came into power from Odo going just before Hugh Capet So basically this episode is going to…

BenCarolingians and

GaryCarolingians and other. We’ll just put it out there. But if I put that, if I put that in the title, people would be less likely to click on it. You got to put something, either you’re going to do at least a respectable title, which I like to do, so it’ll be ‘Ranking the Carolingians’. Or if you want people to click, you have to be something like ‘You Won’t Believe What We Have To Say Now’. So in any case, that is what we are going to do today. Now, the way that I have ranked them is based on a specific criteria that includes their military prowess, their economic management, cultural development, state management, and then how this translated into long term stability. Did you have a similar metric for how you rank them?

BenI was quite different because most of the things that you just said are lumped into one category, which we call Voulez-vous?which in French means ‘would you, do you want’ to live under this monarch? So that’s like an entire category is like how nice was it to live under, did they do good things for France, that sort of thing? We also have we have the en garde category, which is how much they got personal power for themselves. And our other categories are very different. They’re more based on like how interesting a person he was rather than how effective he was as a monarch. So I guess we we’re using a slightly different method. So we have the Enchantée category, which is how iconic they are. Like, how great is their image and legacy that’s gone throughout history. And we have the Oh-la-la category, which is how scandalous and saucy and HBO worthy their life was. And we also have La Vie en trône which is a play on La Vie en Rose which is how long they spent on the throne and how many children they had. So pretty much. Yeah. Another thing about legacy, I guess. So I guess we’re sort of more where sort of less about the historical, rigorous academic detail than we are about just judging people and deciding if they’re interesting or not.

GaryWell, that’s fun then. I think we’ll have, we might have quite a different list.


GaryMe going more for perhaps who was the best ruler and yours perhaps doing the most interesting ruler. So having said that, how about we jump in and we go from the worst monarch all the way up to Charlemagne? I mean, whoever possibly was number one. (lots of laughter)

BenThat’s the thing about ranking the Carolingians. It feels like a bit of an exercise in futility because there’s one that everyone sort of thinks of, although these days I guess there is there is more of an argument for the other Charles’s and maybe even a Pepin in there. But we’ll see.

GaryWe shall see. And I’m pretty excited about this because as great as the last episode was, and I very much enjoyed ranking the Merovingians, but with the Merovingians, I think about half of them, what the other Ben and I would say was, yeah, he existed and that was pretty much it because…

Ben: its pretty pitiful. I mean, a lot of the points that we give our monarchs has to do with like, they’ll get a point for like a fact that we know about them. So like if they had a scandalous divorce, they’ll probably get two points for that. So, when we have very few sources and not much information, they’re only picking up like five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten points in total. And so, we have we actually have a graph on our website which shows our scores laid down next to each other and it goes like Clovis, Clovis Clothar and then a couple of the other ones get up to like 50, and then it severely drops off all the way down to Charles Martel.

GaryI imagine that, yeah, because essentially it’s not just that we lack a lot of information about them, which is unfortunate, but because half of the Merovingians were rois fainéants being the do nothing kings, they really didn’t exercise much of any power whereas for

Ben: or did they.

Gary: Well, okay, we’re doing the Carolingians so we won’t go too much into that other than to say that with the Carolingians there was perhaps only one king that was really a do nothing king. And the others, I mean, there are some that they might have died young, but they at least had some power. So with that said, how about we jump in and you tell us what is your absolute worst monarch between Charles Martel and then Louis V being the very last one. So just before Hugh Capet we are ranking essentially all the kings of, the leaders of Francia, then the leaders of West Francia, essentially anyone who ruled over that area that would become France from Charles Martel to Louis V. So who is your worst?

Ben Our worst is Carloman I. Which might be a bit interesting. I think we both saw that Carloman I had a lot of potential. But he had the unfortunate curse of being Charlemagne’s younger brother, who was basically pushed aside at every turn. Even his own mother seemed to prefer Charlemagne and was working with various Frankish vassals to give power to Charlemagne. So, Carloman basically squared up to fight his brother, which was a fight that he probably wouldn’t have won. And before he could, he supposedly had a nosebleed and died. And it was not a very long reign. So, yeah, it wasn’t that great.

GaryI definitely agree he was not the most interesting monarch and he wasn’t one of the better monarchs. I have him fairly low, but I agree he was not a great king. He seemed to be a pretty mediocre king who died young. One point that I have in his favor is he did with his brother, put down a revolt in Aquitaine. And that seems to be something of a catalyst for their disagreement because they disagreed on what would be done with Aquitaine afterwards, which led Carloman to essentially run off in a huff. So that’s basically the only interesting thing I know about Carloman. And then, of course, he possibly had that brain aneurysm or somehow mysteriously died, making way for a very interesting figure to take power. But Carloman is not on the bottom of my list. The bottom of my list is Charles the Simple. Now, he might be much higher on yours.

BenWow. Yeah. Yeah. No. Yeah.

GaryBecause he’s more interesting, I suppose.

Ben:  Yea, He’s very interesting.

GaryBut in terms of his actual rule, he in my opinion, he actively did more harm to West Francia than good. He was one of three monarchs during this period that I ranked as having a negative effect on West Francia. And it’s funny because his reign started off somewhat strong. He held off Viking attacks, he tried to take Lotharingia, and he did for a while, although the Nobles wouldn’t recognize him, so he couldn’t consolidate it. But then the rest of his reign just really went downhill. He had to cede the county of Rouen to Rollo in 911, He repeatedly gave away more power to his aristocrats. He invaded Lotharingia again, but failed. He failed to stop Viking Muslim and Magyar raids. And then, of course, he had his, I won’t say a love affair, but his doting upon the noble Hagano, giving him so many important things which resulted in his other nobles turning on him. And then eventually he dies in prison from one of his vassals. So he was someone who he tried to be a great king, and he seems to have failed at every turn. Now, having said that, I’m guessing he’s going to possibly even be in your top five because of how interesting he is. But for me, just as just as a ruler, I think he’s, he’s has to be the worst ruler of all the Carolingians.

BenInteresting. I guess in that case, like him being around for a long time is a big negative fear. Where is it something that we give points for? Because I think we’re more interested in like the king surviving and and leaving a mark than we are in benefiting the country, which is only one of our categories. But I will I mean, I will fight I will try to fight in the civil code a little bit, because you’re right, he is number five on our list. You could argue that giving brawn to Rolo was a good move that because it did help fend off other Vikings and it did create, in a way the Norman culture which I think was a net positive for France as a whole. But I don’t know. What do you what do you think about that?

GarySo I actually agree that I think it was a smart decision to cede the county of Rouen. But I’m just saying that even though it was a smart decision, it was a sign of his weakness and it wasn’t the only sign of his weakness because he gave more power to Ramnulf, the Duke of Aquitaine, more power to Richard le Justicier as Marquis of Burgundy. And so it was just a mark that he was not this powerful king that he thought he was. And when he tried to assert his power, he ended up getting his butt kicked over and over again. So that is my only, only comment on that. And the funny thing about the seating of the county of Rouen. First of all, I think a lot of people mistakenly think that he ceded Normandy to the Vikings, which is not what happened. He just ceded a small territory around Rouen. And this was supposed to be temporary. But the problem is Charles and his successors were so weak or they were or they were actually allied with the Vikings because all of their other vassals had turned on them, that what was supposed to be temporary became permanent. So it was a complex thing, and I actually do think it was smart. But either way, I just don’t like Charles. So he is my absolute worst Carolingian monarch.

BenSo I’m not going to fight too hard for him. But yeah, I guess all of these regional rules that always meant to be temporary at first, aren’t they? Like Robert the Strong came into sort of western France as the M Dominicusand then he ends up being the duke of the entire area. That’s always that’s always how it starts. And then it sort of snowballs from there.

GaryOr the opposite. What’s supposed to be permanent ends up being temporary. So.

BenBut yeah, I mean, sorry, I got to like go on about Charles the Simple more because he’s very interesting to me. I find him as like such a fascinating figure, especially because we have so much on him. But he seemed more interested in taking over Lotharingia than he did actually ruling France. And at one point in I think our episode on him, I observed that he loves going to Lotharingia and ruling in Lotharingia.Yea, but the French are really annoyed that he’s always there and the Lotharingians are also really annoyed that he’s always there because they’ve been used to ruling themselves.

GaryAnd not only that, you know, this is, I think his great flaw is he thought he was greater than he was. He thought he was Charlemagne. He thought he could rule over this vast realm. But on the one hand, there’s the West Franks who are mad at him because he’s favoring this weirdo, this no name, Lord Hagano. But meanwhile in Lotharingia, he alienated nobility there and in West Francia by failing to stop these raids from these various groups. So in fairness, it was a different time. There was increased attacks from abroad, but he bit off way more than he could chew. And then he ended. He didn’t even have a good end because you would hope, at least for a tragic figure, that he would die in battle or something. But he essentially, at the end of his reign, he was without any friends. And so he sent out messengers to people and said, Hey, I’m your king, and then count of Vermandois said, “okay, I’ll recognize you.” And he fell for it. And then he got captured, and then he spends the rest of his life in prison. So he was he was not as great or as smart and probably not as good looking as he thought he was. So that’s why he’s the last on my list.

BenYeah. Interesting. There’s a there’s a line from Game of Thrones where Tyrion Lannister says to King Joffrey, “Anyone who has to say, I am the king is no true king.”

GaryAbsolutely. And that pretty much sums up Charles the Simple. So moving on, who is your second worst Carolingian monarch, or perhaps least interesting might be the, well, how are you going to rank it?

BenI guess I’m just crapping on the Carloman’s at the top of this episode because our second worst is Carloman II.

GaryOh, really?

BenYes. Honestly, it was very, very hard to find stuff on Carloman II. I think that’s partly why he struggled in the in the ranking. But also he really was just second fiddle to his brother Louis III and after Louis III, and because they were co rulers, of course. And this is to put it in context for the listener. This is just after, was it before, Charles the Fat or after Charles The Fat? I can’t remember.

GarySo in the list. So Louis III and Carloman take over after Louis II, the Stammerer, and then the Louis III and Carloman II preceded Charles the Fat.

BenYes. So, yeah, they both die in mysterious hunting accident or Carloman and dies in hunting accident. Louis dies in chasing a maiden and hitting his head on a lintel.

GaryOne of two French monarchs who would die that way.

Ben: Hitting his head on a lintel, Yeah. And then Carloman is one of like 50 dies. And there are three Carolingian who I believe who die in hunting accidents, if I’m not wrong. But, but yeah. So Carloman II, there’s just honestly not much I can say about him. But yeah, maybe you have a different take.

GarySo it’s interesting that you have the Carlomans as your bottom. I don’t have them at the bottom. They’re kind of mid-tier, but I do have them together, actually. Carloman and Carloman II both in succession, because I agree, they pretty much didn’t do much of anything. I mean, both Carlomans were essentially the second fiddle to their greater brothers. Carloman I being second fiddle to Charlemagne. And he dies suddenly, probably of a brain aneurysm. And Charlemagne is this glorious ruler. And then Carloman II he is the Co-ruler with Louis III who wins this amazing battle against the Vikings, which is commemorated in the Ludwigslied this epic poem. And then Carloman dies at the age of 18 in a hunting accident. So there isn’t really much to say about either of the Carlomans, other than they were the shadow of much greater monarchs. So I understand why they didn’t make the top of your medieval People magazine.

Ben: Oh, you’re making our podcast sound really frivolous, which it is. So I’m glad we have that. I’m glad we have that reputation because…

GaryI don’t think People magazine is frivolous. I think that is some slander right there.

BenOh, good, good. I’m not too familiar with the American magazines, but.

GaryIt is the…

BenThe I think of the I must be thinking of Cosmopolitan or something.

GaryThis is very high literature where we are. I don’t know what’s going on in Edinburgh. (laughter)

BenBut yeah, Carloman II, I think we also kind of marked him down for not being able to subdue Bozo of Provence. I think that was also a bit of a point against him because that was in his case, a rebellion that didn’t he didn’t put down.

GaryYeah, he was a mediocre monarch. Although, I mean, as a human being, I suppose I can give him a little slack since he died at the age of 18. But as a monarch, he was just not a very great figure. So I understand why the Carlomans are at the bottom of your list. They’re certainly a very mah figures in my list, but they are the Carloman II is not the second worst. So my second worst is Louie d’Outremer otherwise known as Louie from Overseas because he spent his childhood in the court of I believe it was Alfred of Wessex.

Ben Athelstan, I believe.

GaryOh. Athelstan. Okay. See, I will try to be as accurate as I can with French history. But if I get something wrong with English history. (Laughter)

Yeah, we’re going to. We’re going to mark that off. He began as a puppet of Hugh the Great who summoned him back from England to take the throne. He didn’t speak French when he came to the country. He spoke English, and in his defense, he did try to be an independent and great king. The problem, though, was that he did so by trying to fight against his vassals. And I understand that in order to be a king in this age, sometimes that’s what you had to do. But he brought a lot of bloodshed and he ultimately failed. He failed to subdue Hugh the Great. He engaged in a large scale coalition with Otto I from the king of East Francia, the king of Germany, or I guess we should say, the precursor, the Germanland, Conrade, King of Burgundy and Arnold Count of Flanders to attack West Francia caused a lot of devastation, but ultimately they were defeated, even though they largely outnumbered their rivals. And he finally died. Speaking of hunting accidents, he died while chasing a wolf through a forest and then falling from his horse. So he brought a lot of destruction and devastation to the country he ruled, trying to be a strong ruler, but ultimately failing and then dying at a fairly young age. He was in his thirties when he died, I believe. So, yeah, I see him as being someone who like Charles. He tried to be great, but he vastly overestimated his own prowess. So for me he is second from the bottom. How about you? Is he higher up with you, I assume? Well, he has to be, but I mean, just how high?

BenYeah, he’s. He’s only two places high for me.

Gary: Oh, really?

Ben: So in this one we’re in more agreement, I think he was definitely in a way, he was sort of set up to fail. Being raised in exile in Athelstan court. Because, I mean, Athelstan is one of the greatest kings in English history. So in that way, he had this good example. But Athelstan was ruling an England that was a lot more centralized than France. And in a way he was setting his bar too high for how, I guess how good his vassals were going to be. And he, I don’t think he expected, this is a lot of conjecture, but I don’t think he expected Hugh the Great to be as domineering as he ended up being. I think we gave him, the main thing we gave him credit for was marrying Gerberga of Saxony, who at the time of the marriage was the widowed Duchess of Lothringia. And she brought a lot of strength. And she was the sister of the king of Germany. But at the same time, that was also a double-edged sword, because with her came the dominant presence of Germany. In France, as in literally their armies in France helping Louis fight, which down the line caused a lot of problems. So, yeah, I think we I think we sort of agreed that. And in terms of interesting ness, he was pretty he wasn’t as interesting as Charles was Simple. So he didn’t get that that boost, I guess.

GaryAll right. Well, I’m glad we can at least agree on that. So let’s go on to the next one. Who is your third from the worst?

Ben That is Louis V.

GaryLouis the V.

BenThe last Carolingian. I mean, this one’s pretty straightforward. I mean, he was the grandson of Louis the V. Grandson of Louis IV. And he basically ruled for about 5 minutes and just died. His one saving grace for us was a messy divorce. That was really interesting. But apart from that, it was pretty dismal.

GaryWell, that and he did try to besiege the holiest person in France, the archbishop of Reims. So.

BenI mean, I see that as sort of doubling down on what Lotaire was already doing. He didn’t, I don’t know. He doesn’t strike me as somebody who has a lot of regency.

GaryTrue. I agree. And, you know, we are finding ourselves slightly in more agreement because he’s actually my next person. But my third choice here and the last king that I have who gets a negative score is actually Lothair his father. So in my opinion. So this guy, he takes the throne at 13 and those in power wanted him to be a figurehead. And to his credit, he tried to be a powerful monarch. But again, the story is that he failed. He tried to take Lotharingia. He raided the Imperial Palace. But this didn’t bring about lasting results. Instead, it just caused Otto II to attack West Francia forcing Lothair to renounce claims to the Lotharingia. And not only that, but at the peace table Lothair made it even worse by not inviting Hugh the Great, which antagonized him, and then he ended up fighting a losing war against both Hugh and then another one to re invade the Lotharingia. So he brought a lot of blood and death to the realm and didn’t accomplish much of anything, if not actually losing out. So for me, Lothair is the third guy and then I have Louie V. So we almost lined up for bit.

BenWe almost did it. Yeah, well, it’s a shame when we’re not doing Hugh the Great in this list are we.

Gary:  No.

BenBecause he’s popping up quite a bit as the foil to these kings. But yeah I think Lothair is kind of, I mean Lothair is kind of an extension of his Dad, Louis IV’s problems with Hugh the Great and then Louis V is sort of an extension of Lothair, which is sort of his problems with the archbishop which the Robertians are known for their piety as well as their military prowess is what gets Hugh Capet on the throne, after Louis V dies. Honestly again, Lothair is one of those ones that off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you much about because his reign was a bit of a wash.

GaryAbsolutely. As far as just a comment on the Hugh the Great thing. I definitely agree that Hugh the Great was often the most powerful man in France. The problem though, is that he didn’t claim to rule over all of France. That’s the thing. I mean, he was regionally such an incredible power, but he was he wasn’t the guy. So we’re going to have to, we’ll keep Charles Martel, but we’re not going to include Hugh the Great just for those arbitrary reasons.

Ben In our like decisions about who we include, we have a hard and fast rule of they must be the French monarch. So we don’t actually include Charles Martel in our official list, which we’ll get to later. But. We do what’s called in between the episodes where we will rate people who will either almost essentially the ruler of France or just very interesting and big at the time. And we can’t really get away with not talking about them. So yeah, Hugh the Great was one of those as well. So we do have a ranking of him, but I won’t be talking about him today.

GaryWell, fantastic. And yet another reason to check out your podcast, but back to mine. So fourth person on your list, we’re going up and we’re going from worst to best. Is the next person at least decent.

BenTo who is our Louis IV. Louis IV is our fourth worst.

GaryReally? Why? Why Louis IV.

BenPretty much for the reasons that you said Louie IV before. I mean, he had a lot of the same issues that Charles the Simple had without being quite as interesting.

GaryThat’s interesting. It’s interesting how we are kind of starting to line up, because I agree. You know, for me, Louis was second to worst. Now I have Louis IV. So we’re kind of starting to sync up a little. I’m very I’m very excited to see who your next pick is, because I think we might possibly get on board with this. So who is your next guy?

BenLouis the Stammerer.

GaryOh. Oh, your one off from me. Oh, my gosh. (laughter)

BenWho was yours?

GaryCharles the Fat

BenCharles the Fat. Oh, interesting. Okay, so, Charles the Fat is not far away.

GaryOkay, well, let’s talk. Louis the Stammerer. So why is he next on your list?

BenOh, poor Louis the Stammerer. I mean,(laughing) he didn’t have much of a chance. He was the son of Charles the Bald, which is a hard act to follow, I guess. Because Charles the Bald reigned for a very long time, did a lot of things, became emperor, and then Louis the Stammerer, he did a pretty good job taking things over. He had a Boso and her sister, who was his sister who was his stepmother to contend with. And he managed to subdue them pretty well. And he even got the pope to come and do a big council to reform a lot of the clerical issues that were happening in France. But he died very quickly into his reign. He was just too ill. Yeah, it’s a shame because I think he would have been decent if you just had the chance.

GaryYeah, I agree that Louis the Stammerer, he was someone who he played the politics game and he played it poorly unfortunately. He honored some nobles at the expense of others. And then he died a year and a half into his reign campaigning against the Vikings. So he was a mediocre king, cut short and was not a very notable person. He is definitely gets a sort of a meh rating from me, but he wasn’t the worst guy.

BenYeah, I mean, as much as I say, like he wasn’t given much of a chance, He kind of was as a young junior king by his father. But unfortunately, I think he was sort of thrust into some situations that he couldn’t cope with. I think at one point he was about 12 years old and he was expected to be the king of Neustria. And then, Robert the Strong shows up with this huge army with these Breton mercenaries and takes it over and Louis isn’t able to do much. And then after that, pretty much his dad kind of keeps him out of reach of the main fighting that goes on in Aquitaine, primarily against the Vikings and against Pepin II of Aquitaine. That’s my main recollection of what happened. And Louis leads a very short lived rebellion that Robert the Strong of course, puts down because by this time Robert the Strong is basically Charles the Bald’s sort of crony. And yeah, and so it does look like if he’d been given more of a chance, he would have done better. Maybe, But we don’t know. That’s the thing.

GaryAnd interestingly, I think you and I went on completely opposite directions in that here you pick Louie the Stammerer, who was very unlucky, but possibly competent if he got to rule longer. Whereas I went with Charles the Fat, who was the luckiest man in existence, but who was not really that competent. Here was someone who, through a series of deaths, inherited an entire empire. It was truly phenomenal how he got his start ruling over one realm. And then, just through sheer coincidence, all of his relatives drop dead and suddenly he retakes Charlemagne’s empire. But as far as what he did in West Francia, and just for clarification, even though he ruled over this great empire, I’m only going to rank him on what he did for the area that we would call France. He paid off the Vikings who were attacking Paris and had them raid Provence. So positive being that he gets the Vikings away from Paris, But then he does a lot of damage to another area in West Francia. He tried to get the local Lords to love him by issuing a flurry of capitularies, but he was just not a likable guy and he seems to be an awkward person and everybody recognized it because he was this guy who only came into power through happenstance and he did not ingratiate himself as well with the local populace and he would eventually be overthrown in Germania, in the eastern part of his empire. So he was a very lucky guy who tried, but he was not a very great individual. And so that’s why I have him at number 13.

BenYeah. I mean, the most infuriating thing about Charles the Fat as it relates to France was his tardiness, which is where he gets his name from, obviously, where he didn’t show up to this huge Viking siege of Paris, which is like the siege of Paris. That’s the most famous one until 11 months into the siege, by which at which point he kind of capitulated and let the Vikings raid further up the Seine, let them raid the bishopric of Sens. And it was just, we were so infuriated at him for that, because Odo had gone to all of this trouble to make sure that they wouldn’t give the Vikings an inch, that this would you know, this would be sort of a last great stand for them. And Charles, the Fat comes in. Sure with this army that could defeat the Vikings. But then he doesn’t actually defeat them. He he capitulated. So that’s my rant about Charles the Fat.

GaryNo, he was not a great warrior like some of his Carolingian predecessors. So that’s why he’s my 13. So who is your number 12?

BenMy number 12 is Louis III.

GaryLouis III

Ben: Might be a bit controversial. I mean, similar deal to his dad, Louis the Stammerer, where he just wasn’t around very long. In his case, he gets quite a bit, a few more points for his great battle. I honestly can’t remember the name of the battle, but it.

GaryIt was a battle of Saurcourt-en-Vimeu.

BenYes, that’s why I couldn’t remember it. But it is the basis for the Ludwigslied, which is a very famous, sort of high Germanic poem. Is it high Germanic or just Germanic?


GaryOne of the, you know what, we’re only doing French history. We don’t have to be accurate with German or English history.

BenYeah. But yeah. So, aside from that battle, he really doesn’t have much to his name. And he has pretty much the same problems as his brother Carloman II did, just did basically an inch better than that.

GaryThat’s interesting. I rank him much higher because of his legendary battle, although granted, he was cut short. What’s interesting is that beyond just the famous battle that he won, I have him, he subdued much of the breakaway Provence. Not only that, but he was very well loved. So he was, he was kind of like the John F Kennedy of his time, if you can, to make a very bad historical comparison. So for that reason, I have him much higher. My number 12 is actually Robert I. Robert I basically, because he was not around for long, He stood up to Charles the Simple and he very briefly became king leading that rebellion. But then he dies in battle. So, for that reason, he’s my number 12.

BenYeah. Robert I is a fascinating one in that he wins, yet dies. It’s such a big twist and I definitely milked that aspect of his life in our episode where suddenly the episode was cut short and Eliza who doesn’t look at any of the history before we do the episode. So she’s sort of doing a cold reaction to it every time. And it was it was one of the most fun episodes to record because I teased that this battle was really important but hadn’t actually said what happened, and she wasn’t expecting him to just immediately die. But he was fighting at the age of 60 or something. He shouldn’t have been there, shouldn’t have been right in there to begin with. It seems like a bit of a hazard.

GaryHE was a very heroic old geezer.

BenBut his son, Hugh, the Great, sort of pulled through. And I guess he’s sort of the real victor.

GaryIndeed. So moving on, your number 11.

BenYes, Well, if I might spoil it a bit. My next three are Charles the Fat, Lothair and Robert.


BenSo, not to cover the same ground, but yes, that’s 11.

GaryThat’s perfectly fine. You know, I think we might be covering much of the same ground for a bit. So my next ones are Louis the Stammerer, Carloman, and then Carloman II. So I believe we basically, I think covered all the same, which brings us to number eight. So we might start to get into some very controversial territory with what makes it into your top list since we’re in the top eight. So who is your number eight?

BenYes, it’s interesting. So far, we’ve covered all, mostly people who either outstayed their welcome or weren’t around long enough to do much. And I think this is the first king that that doesn’t do either of those things. And that is for me it is Rudolph.

GaryOh really.

BenReally? I don’t know which name that you use for Rudolph, but we call him Rudolph.

GaryI called it Rudolph, but you know, either one. Yeah, we can we can be as French as we want. When we started this episode, though, I was slightly triggered when you said guillotine, because.

BenI’m sorry about that.

GaryThat’s perfectly fine. You know, there are some things I won’t insist someone say croissant or Paris, but when I hear guillotine, that kind of drives me crazy.

BenThat’s the Australian pronunciation unfortunately.

GaryThat’s perfectly fine. So tell us why your number eight.

BenSo, he’s just I don’t know. He was just pretty decent at sort of keeping the balance basically of all of these tricky things that he had to juggle. He didn’t want to be king. He didn’t ask for it, but he, sort of, What’s the word? He he rose to the challenge. Yeah.


BenPersevered. And he was running around like crazy in all of these lands that he, you know, had never expected to have to rule over because he’d only just inherited the Duchy of Burgundy when suddenly Robert died in battle. And and Hugh the Great. And I think it was Herbert of Vermandois were duking it out and he was basically, Rudolph was basically the compromise candidate which if any listeners know American politics, they’ll know all about what a compromise candidate is.

GaryOh, boy.


BenBut yeah, so he did really well with, he got a very good on guard score, fighting score, because he had some very significant wins against the Vikings and he managed to get a lot of them converted and and settled. There’s the main things I remember about Rudolph.

GarySo that’s interesting. I actually ranked him as my number five, and maybe this is just because I like a fighter. I like someone who, he was put in such a difficult position because he inherited a kingdom with so many problems, and yet he fought off the Vikings, the Magyars. And by all accounts, he was very good at what he did. And because he was able to put down these attacks, he ended up winning the allegiance of the Normans and the Aquitainians who had been pushing towards autonomy. Having said that, he when he fought against Heinrich the Fouler, who was king of the Germans, he was defeated. Although he didn’t cede West Frankish territory, he just lost Lotharingia or wasn’t able to take it. So he was a decent king and someone who managed to hold on at a time when very few could. So I have him ranked as number five. I have him ranked much higher. For me, and I know this will probably be very, very controversial, but my number eight is actually Louis I, Louis the Pious.

BenOh, he’s my seventh.

Gary Oh. Oh, wow.

BenSo we have birth in the the sort of Louis not Louis haters but Louis down players camp.

GaryThey could have been better. But yeah. So in the case of Louis. What’s interesting is that he starts off strong. He repels the Vikings from Freesia. He puts down revolts by Slavs and Basques and he aids Christians in Sardinia. He continues the Carolingian Renaissance. He builds great palaces. One negative, though, is he destroys a lot of Germanic artifacts and texts which his father had accumulated. So we lose a lot of the old history thanks to him. And he went on a moral crusade at court which dampened the art and absolutely killed Carolingian humor. I have a whole episode on what made the Franks laugh, and basically, I don’t know if you’ve heard that episode. If not, I’ll have to kick you, kick you off this interview. But basically, he thought that laughing was something that people shouldn’t do, that it was beneath him. So he absolutely ruined humor for a while. But aside from just that. The second half of his reign really takes a huge downturn, first of all, because with his heavy hand against his nobles, he turned many of them against him. And then once his sons become of age, they find that there are all these nobles that don’t like Louis. And so suddenly they can revolt against their father and succeed in tearing apart the empire. So even though his first reign was a fairly decent continuation of Charlemagne’s. He really dropped the ball in the second half and all of the repercussions of his bad decisions ended up tearing apart this great empire.

BenI think, I guess since I’m ranking Louis slightly higher, I have to play devil’s advocate for him. So but I think the the common argument for why Louis the Pious is sort of not so bad is the fact that Charlemagne’s empire was never meant to continue existing as it existed under Charlemagne. Like even at the end of his reign, Charlemagne was having a lot of difficulties controlling his sons, and he had a very firm idea that, okay, once I die, this is all getting split up. Neither of those things happened because all of his sons died except for Louis. So it solved one problem in that there was no succession crisis, but it sort of kicked the can down the road in terms of how are we going to split this up. So Louis was reigning over something that he hadn’t been trained to reign. He was trained to be the rule of Aquitaine, which had a very specific kind of culture that the rest of the Frankish kingdoms didn’t necessarily share. And. I’ve lost my train of thought.

GaryNo, I can definitely, I definitely agree with you that Charlemagne’s empire, it could only be held together by Charlemagne. This was a time when politics was personal and Charlemagne was a giant of a man, both literally, and that he was just huge. But also just his character was so overwhelming that I don’t blame Louis for failing to hold the empire together. But I think by exacerbating the already existing tensions within the Empire, I think it was a lot worse than it had to be. I think that particularly his frequent amendments to his will without consulting his sons and saying to one son or another, Oh, now you’re not going to inherit anything. And now this other son who’s a child, he’s going to get all your land. Yeah, that wasn’t the smartest decision from him. And so that for me is why he ranks lower. In fairness, he does rank number eight. I still have him as having a positive impact on the Frankish empire, but those failures mean that he’s a bit lower than he could have been.

BenYeah, I mean, I think there’s two big reasons why he’s kind of been upheld by historians in the past as you know, not as bad as people think. One is that, oh, well, he did a lot of good things for the church. He was good for like church reform. But he was reforming the church to make it stricter and less fun. So that’s not great in my eyes. And the other thing was, oh, well, he only made all of these poor decisions at the end of his reign because of his wife Judith, influencing him. And it’s all going to be pinned on her, not on the king. As if the king is not an adult who makes his own decisions. So, yeah, I think those are the two big reasons why Louis has been historically defended. But of course, now that we have a greater understanding of women’s roles in history and now that we have less glorifying of people who uphold the church than we maybe used to be. I think that’s why Louis had a bit of a reckoning in more recent years and people looking down on him a bit more.

GaryMy big pro for Louis has to be his continuation of the Carolingian renaissance, though, because the Carolingian renaissance as an event was such an unbelievably important period of European history, just this enormous expansion of science and learning which occurred largely under Charlemagne, but then continues on under Louis. And for the time that he was able to hold the empire together, I think that that accomplished a lot. And so even though Louis might have failed on the military front, he gets major points from me on the economic and the cultural front.

BenYeah, I mean, we wouldn’t know half the things we know about Charlemagne’s reign if it weren’t for Louis the Pious’ reign. Him sponsoring the Vita Karoli and all of the great texts that were historical texts that were produced. So, I mean, even though it was a lot of propaganda, it’s better than nothing. Looking at you later Merovingians

GaryIt is better than nothing. That is correct. So number seven, you had Louis Pious, number seven, I have Louie III. So now let’s go on to six. Should be novel for both of us. Who is your number six?

BenI have Odo.

GaryOh, wow! Me, too.

BenWe finally, finally!


BenYeah. I thought, now that we’re getting close to the top five, I think we should be, if not more aligned, at least talking about fewer people.

GaryI think our number one will probably be the same.

BenYeah. Odo. So Odo was the first person we’ve talked about so far on this list who we didn’t send to the guillotine.

Gary: Oh, really?

Ben: Yeah. There were only four Carolinians who had that honor. Not discounting Charles Martel, who wasn’t up for the guillotine by virtue of not being king of France. But yeah, so Odo, I think a lot of our marks went up for him when I read well, I sort of summarized the entire account of the siege of Paris which is pretty epic event in French history generally. It’s a very meticulously documented siege, which is almost sort of, except for maybe in Charlemagne’s reign. It’s the first time we’ve sort of seen that in the definitely in the Viking era. He then went on to, this was before he was king, he then went on to have a very similar reign to Rudolph, where he sort of running around fixing all the problems. And he does end up dying of dementia brought on by severe stress. So he was not having a very good time, but he was being a very decent ruler, I think.

GaryAbsolutely. I think that is one of the most exciting episodes on my podcast. I’m guessing it’s probably the same with yours. The Siege alone is a very significant episode, and his leadership of Paris was incredible. More than that, though, later on in his reign, he’ll hold off Viking attacks, he’ll hold off Moorish attacks. And one thing is he knew how to play the political game. One of the criticisms I made about some of the other monarchs was that they believed they were greater than they were, and particularly they would try to conquer Lotharingia and then fail.

Ben: Yes.

Gary: In the case of Odo, what he does is he recognizes the king of East Francia Arnulf as his superior, which doesn’t really mean much in practice. It’s not like he is becoming his vassal in any way. He’s not sending troops there. But by having this humility, he essentially gets the Germans to back off. And so Odo knows how to play the game. He knows how to keep people in line, and he inherits a realm that is under siege and he brings stability to it. So for that reason, he’s my number six and wow, we finally agreed on something.

BenYeah. Odo is kind of the antithesis of Charles the Simple, who’s of course kicking around in that period stirring up trouble. Whereas Charles is very proud and has has a big opinion of himself. Odo is very humble and he is the very first in his entire dynasty. He’s the first Robertian who of course, are the ancestors of the Capuchins. So he comes out with a really strong start for them. I feel like I’m a sports commentator almost recapping a game or something. And yeah, so he really sets that ball rolling. And I think the fact that he was a lay abbot, he dressed in a sort of monk like way, as do a lot of the Robertians and he actually didn’t have any children either so he ended up going to his brother Robert. So I think that sort of, sense of like, well, I’m just a sort of caretaker king. I’m not here to establish a grand dynasty. I’m just here to make sure everything goes smoothly. I think that really does Odo a of credit.

GaryAbsolutely. That’s why he’s my number six. Now, I mentioned before that my number five was Rudolph. I called him Rudolph on my podcast. Who is your number five? I’m kind of tense to hear who you have.

BenIt’s Charles the Simple, unfortunately. (laughs)

GaryReally? All right. All right. Why is he number five? Why is he in your top five!?

BenI mean, It will comfort you to know we did still guillotine him.

GaryOkay. Good.

BenBut as I said initially, a lot of what it comes down to it for us is, I mean, we rate them on how long they manage to stay on the throne, which Charles the Simple did for quite a while. And I would argue a lot of that was stretches of peace where we don’t honestly hear much from the annals about him, which I see as a kind of good thing. So there is stability for long stretches of his reign. Even if he gets deposed at the end, if that makes sense. But you could argue that tensions are always sort of simmering and the, I don’t know, maybe you disagree with that.

GaryWell, I suppose people will have to listen to your episode and get their take on it, because we have a very different opinion on him. I do see your point, though, about having a long reign and how that can be something of a mark in a person’s favor. I would slightly disagree, though. I think that people had just become so accustomed to a Carolingian on the throne, because let’s keep in mind that when the Carolingian house eventually falls, it’s not because they were overthrown, it’s because they literally died out. The house just ran out of legitimate heirs. So, that would be my argument. I would recommend that everyone go listen to your podcast, first of all, just because it’s a good podcast, but also you can get a very different take on at least some of the monarchs, although apparently we’re on the same page on Odo. Let’s see if we’re on the same page for number four. Who is your number four?

BenMy number four was Pepin the Short.

GaryOh, my gosh. We agree.

BenYou agree? Oh, that’s good. Okay.

GaryYou know, we might be agree on the..

BenNext I think the next three are going to be pretty easy then, to be honest. But yeah, as they Pepin the Short, he did not get the guillotine either. He got through to the tournament. We generally, to the most easy summary of Pepin the Short is that he is mainly known for being Charlemagne’s dad.

Gary: True.

Ben: Which I think is a is a big disservice to him because I think he’s he’s very underrated in that he was the first Carolingian to technically become king through negotiations with the Pope which were very, very cleverly done. He deposed the last Merovingian king in a in a rather non-violent manner. The Merovingian kind of just stepped aside and yeah, reigns for a while, though not as long as Charlemagne by a long shot. Had lots of kids, you know, perpetuated this dynasty. And yeah, it was also created the papal States. Conquered vast tracts of land. I mean, not as much as Charles Martel, his father, but certainly did an impressive job overall.

GaryAnd for the interesting factor there was the famous Blood at Cannstatt. Do you want to tell our listeners about that?

BenThe Blood court at Cannstatt is this one I don’t know about.

GarySo he invited, there was a bunch of rebellious Alemanni Lords, and he invited them to a meeting at Cannstatt, and then he put them on trial and ordered them all executed for treason, which is why it’s called the Blood Court at Cannstatt. So he might have to go up a little bit in your ranking.

BenOh, So, I mean, we did we did mark him very highly in terms of interestingness, because he did have a number of interesting legends associated with him. That is one, I mean, this comes as a result of me getting better at our research over time. I think past Pepin the short when I knew I had to do Charlemagne, I think I really got my act together in terms of research. So there are definitely things in those early episodes that I definitely missed.

GaryWell, yeah, you know. I think with a name like the short, which is not exactly translates well, it was le Bref, which means like the short rule, not the short himself.

BenI thought it was that he was the younger Pepin, he was technically the younger as opposed to having the middle of Pepin, the elder and that kind of got…

GaryWell in French.

BenTranslated a million times or something.

GaryOh well, in French it’s le Bref like the brief. But either way, with a name like the short, you wouldn’t view him as a threatening guy, but he to the Alemnni he was a pretty brutal guy. So I agree with you. He did a lot of incredible things. He suppressed revolts with his brother. He was a very important bureaucrat. Now, this had been set down by his father, Charles Martel, who essentially expanded the church as a means of using it as an administrative arm of his rule. And he continued his work. Pepin actually began before he became king and actually even before he took over after his father as a bureaucrat within his father’s apparatus. So he was a very, very good bureaucrat. He was much better essentially at running a state than he was at conquering, which is, I think really why the Carolingians managed to take power. And one other notable thing that I would add to him and add to his legacy that many people might not know about is that he established ties with the Abbasids against the Umayyads. One thing that I’ve tried to do in my podcast, because we take sort of a bigger view of history and try to connect the French history with what was going on in the world is I think, unfortunately, a lot of people see this world as diametrically divided between Christians and Muslims when that really wasn’t the case. What happened was,

Ben: yes

Gary: of course the Umayyads were the original or I shouldn’t say original, but they were a powerful country. But then the Abbasids take over everywhere but Spain, where the Umayyads still reign and the Abbasids and Umayyads both say that the other are illegitimate and they hate each other. And Pepin sees this and he says, Oh, you hate the Umayyads in Spain too. And so he makes this great, or he starts to make ties with the Abbasids and starts trading with them. And it’s actually the trade between the Abbasids and the first, under Pepin, but then Charlemagne is going to help fuel the Carolingian Renaissance. So Pepin was a very interesting figure, very good bureaucrat, and I understand why he is your fourth and my fourth, and I’m glad we could agree on that.

BenI also I mean, speaking of your podcast, I really loved your Jihad in Provence episode. I think that was a really good look at a little corner of France that doesn’t get often looked at and and the effects that Muslims have had in that area that isn’t really known about. So that’s a good episode.

GaryThank you very much for plugging my podcast on my podcast. That’s right.

BenBut I just I just wanted to I just wanted to say, ooh, I listened to that one. (laugh)

GaryAnd I will say no, I will say, I don’t know about you, but I’m very, there are certain episodes that I’m very proud of, and I think particularly covering things that people don’t know about is one of the most fun things. And I don’t think many people know that for 90 years there was a muslim political state in southeast France, but there was. And so I think that was just fascinating to cover. Do you want to, before we move on, is there any particular episode that people really have to listen to that will blow their minds?

BenOh, I mean, well, Pépin is a good one because we do encounter a story where he he fights a demon while he’s trying to take a bath. And then, where he’s slain the demon. Servants offered to sort of clean up the gore that’s left behind. He says, No, It’ll wash out. It’s fine. He just gets back in the bath. He had all these little stories. He comes off as a very, very cool headed individual who kind of wasn’t bothered by all of the things that regular mortals were worried about. He’s a fun figure. But, I mean, definitely if you’re going to start in our podcast and you want like off the bat a really interesting one that you don’t need a lot of background for is our Fredegund episode, the very start where we do a special on one of the deep dark ages queens who was very ruthless and the archetypical evil stepmother. She was very interesting to talk about.

GaryWell, I’m going to leave that for you. I think when I covered that, it was one of my favorite episodes, that whole war between Fredegund and Brunhilda. But we’re sticking with your plug, so go check out his one on Fredegund. Anyway, back to our list. Back before we got to end this love fest. So, number three, who is your number three?

BenCharles The Bald.

GaryOh, me too. All right, so we have the same top four. So tell us why. Charles the Bald.

BenSo, Charles the Bald. So, he He takes over from Louis the Pious. And he was the favorite son towards the end, because he was the only one who hadn’t caused him trouble yet because he was basically quite young. But yeah, he’s described as a youth as basically sort of a paragon. And he becomes very, very popular very quickly. His reign is so long and so much happens that it’s hard to quickly summarize it. He eventually goes on to become emperor by conquest, which is quite impressive, beating all of his relatives. Although sadly, he is dying at that stage and things go downhill pretty quickly with at one point he’s his his second wife who’s Louis he Stammer his stepmother absconds with the treasury while they’re off on campaign and sort of abandons him and he ends up being buried in a barrel because the stench is so terrible from his dysentery. But that was an ignominious end to a very strong and stable reign where the Vikings were a big threat for the very first time. And he fought them off really well and he really bolstered France’s defenses. Yeah, those are the main claims to fame that are in my head for him.

GaryI describe him as having the same enthusiasm and charisma as Charlemagne because here was someone who, if you think of all the enemies he had. So first of all, he has his eldest brother, or in this case eldest half brother Lothair, who Rules Lotharingia and constantly wants to take over West Francia, there’s Ludvig a.k.a Louis the German who’s an East Francia, who is also Charles rival, starts out as an ally, then becomes his rival. He has to face the pretender Pepin the II in Aquitaine. He has Vikings attacking him in the North. He has Muslim raiders in the South. I mean, he is beset on virtually all fronts that aren’t the ocean, and yet he somehow manages to persevere and go from fighting one group to another for decades, holds on to all of them, takes Italy, even expands into Lotharingia and almost reunites Charlemagne’s empire. But then he gets defeated at Andernach So he is someone who, unlike a lot of leaders, he is defined more so by his challenges than by his successes. But even then, he had so many successes, and militarily he was very brilliant, very enthusiastic. But also he was economically a very good manager. He was able to raise enough money and allocate enough funds to pay off Vikings, which demonstrates that he had a good management of money. He kept the Carolingian renaissance going as best he could, although granted he was under enormous strain, so it wasn’t nearly as much as it had been. And he also had an eye to the future. He was someone who, he built fortified bridges all across his realm to cut back on Viking attacks. He established a lifelong friendship, which was sometimes contentious, but overall pretty good, with Hincmar, the Bishop of France, and the

BenGuy riding the animals as well. Does That’s helpful, right?

GaryYou know, you want to get the people writing your history to like you, but he gets this guy and he helps establish France says being the center of Christianity, at least in Francia again because it had been under Clovis and his successors. But then things started to move east when Charlemagne takes over the German lands. But meanwhile, Charles really pushes for the supremacy of France. So he does so many things under such great strain. And it’s hard not to like this guy.

BenYeah, I mean, especially especially if you read Janet Nelson’s amazing book on him.

Gary: I did.

BenThat’s what won me over. Because before that I didn’t really know about Charles. I didn’t have a very high opinion of him necessarily. I just didn’t know. And his name isn’t very inspiring. Similar to Pepin the Short. And it’s like really, you’re going to give this guy this name, not Charles the Fortifier or Charles the Bane of the Vikings or something of that.

Gary We don’t even we don’t even know if it’s a joke or not, because some have suggested that he was a very hairy guy.

BenYeah. (chuckles)

GarySo it was kind of like calling someone tiny when they’re a giant.

BenYeah, I think that and also Pepin the Short was apparently quite tall, so that may have been the case as well. Because we know that Charlemagne was definitely tall.

GaryHe’s a giant of a person. We still have his bones, apparently.

BenYeah. So, yeah, it’s safe to assume that Pepin was not. He was no dwarf. Do we want to say anything more about Charles the Bald?

GaryWhat was Charles, what would you say would be the worst thing about Charles? Cause I’m trying to think, and I think maybe the worst thing was when his first wife died and he almost immediately tried to marry someone else for political reasons, which pissed off Hincmar. But even then, I understand why he would do that, although that was sort of, a in our current standing, that might have been something of a dickish thing to do. But it was the Middle Ages. Different time.

BenYeah, it was about, it was about ten days. But of course Louis the Pious was considered to have stayed single for way too long when it took him a few months to to remarry. So it was definitely a different culture where the king is expected to have a wife. I mean, the queen is like the king. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Queen is like a political office, you need to fill that political office. You know, you can’t just leave it vacant.

Gary What do you think is his worst thing, or does he just not have any bad features?

BenOh, no, I think it’s. I can’t really blame him because at the end, the loss of the Battle of Andernach and the German annals aren’t very kind to him. They call him cowardly and greedy and all of that. Of all of the typical villainy traits. But yeah, the way he died was not, It was unfortunate. The way he treated his sons was unfortunate. A series of events leads to him essentially allowing his son Carloman, different Carloman. He’s a monk and but he wants to be recognized as as king of Aquitaine having him blinded, and then he eventually dies. So no dad of the Year. He also has a daughter, Judith, she either eloped or gets kidnapped with the with Bolton of Flanders, although, of course, they then found a great dynasty. So, you know, swings and roundabouts, I guess. But yeah, I think definitely on the, he didn’t die peacefully. He wasn’t the best, Dad. I think those are the two main things I dock him points for.

GarySo there are some negatives. Not to get sidetracked, but it is really interesting to see how the Carolingians has tried to be so different from the Merovingians in this respect because the Merovingians had the traditional Germanic values of having either a primary wife and then secondary wives or concubines, so that way they could produce many, many heirs, which had the advantage that they would have a big family, a big clan, but then the disadvantage that their territories would be split up, whereas the Carolingian they only had, they tried to stick to Christian values and have only one wife at a time, which on the one hand meant that with succession, very often only one person would inherit. Very often, even if there were other siblings, some of them would be sent to the church. And so yeah, it kept the country together. But then of course, when you don’t have that many children, what happens with them is that the house ends up failing. So it is interesting to see the huge difference between those two, but we’re not going to get sidetracked. We already got sidetracked with our little love fest. So now we’re going to go to our top two and we better have the same ones. Who is your number two?

BenCharles Martel.

GaryAll right, good.

BenSo yeah he was not eligible for the guillotine on our podcast and he’s not going through the final tournament but he gets to sit in the VIP box to watch the tournament. That’s what we’ve decided, which we sort of decided in the same way that he in a way refused the crown. We think him sort of refusing the tournament and just sort of lording it over everyone else is kind of a poetic way to interpret his legacy.

GaryHe is a truly remarkable figure, especially because he wasn’t set to even inherit his house, let alone the crown. He was the bastard son of somebody? It’s been so long since I covered the…

Ben Honestly, it’s all just coming back to me right now. Like, a lot of this is off the top of my head, but it’s stuff that I haven’t thought about in months.

GaryI mean, I’m currently researching episode for The Norman Conquest of the Mediterranean. So there you go.

Ben We just recorded Philip Augustus. There’s a lot to wrap your head around there, but. Yeah, but Pepin the middle child Martel’s father was he. I think he was the. He was the greatest mayor of the palace until obviously Charles Martel. Where he was around for a very long time through many, many Merovingian kings. And but yeah, he unfortunately there are issues with his wife wanting to have her grandson be mayor of the palace. But then, of course, you have a child king and a child mayor. And how is that going to work? So, yeah, Charles Martel tries to step in. He has this war with the mayor of the palace and the other kingdom and with his stepmother, eventually conquers both through some really smart military maneuvers. The Battle of Amblève is I think, meant to be as one of his greatest victory, his greatest victory against Christians, I guess. And then, of course, goes on to win the Battle of Tours and become this sort of icon for later crusaders.

GaryAlthough ironically enough, it wasn’t even the most important battle.

BenNo it definitely wasn’t.

Gary The most important battle was the Battle of Toulouse, which took place 11 years before. But the thing was Odo the Great never was able to turn that. Him and the Aquatainians did not get the same power as Charles Martel. So when Charles Martel wins what is called an English, the Battle of Tour, what the French call the Battle of Portier, where he meets up with this Islamic army. Charles Martel takes that and he propagandize the hell out of it and says, I just pushed back this Muslim army. And so he gets to be remembered as this great figure in history, although in fairness to him, he was truly an incredible military figure because, first of all, first, he reunites Francia, which had been divided into these various kingdoms. Then he repulses a sizable Islamic army. I mean, it was one that was capable of invasion or at least invading a part of the country, even though that wasn’t its aim, its aim was to acquire booty. And so he defeats this huge army. Then he goes to war in Provence because a Islamic force actually sets up and actually conquers parts of Provence. Then he goes to war and he at least makes progress in Septimania, which is this tiny little state in Provence around Narbonne. Narbonne being the capital, I think. Yeah, Arles, was part of, I think, the Provence when the Muslims took it. But he, he takes a bunch of territory from them. He subdues the Aquatainians so he does so much conquering and he does a lot to modernize the Frankish military and create uniform armaments. So he had such an enormous impact. And then aside from the military point of view, there was his state management and he is the guy who figures out that you can use the church as essentially your arm to administer the country. And that really sets the foundation for the Carolingian rule and for much of medieval Europe, to be honest, using the church.

BenI mean he  is the same trick. Yeah. Getting your friends the inside. Yeah. And of course, Charles Martel is who the Carolingians are named after. They don’t get their name from Charlemagne and they get the name from Charles Martel. So I think that’s definitely a big point in his favor. The fact that this entire episode is only called the Carolingians because he was called Charles. And of course, right up to the modern day, we now have a king called Charles, at least in my country. So you know that legacy, definitely shows itself in ways that we don’t even realize.

GaryYeah, I’m very thankful that you finally managed to make your way through that queue after waiting for two three days or something to see the Queen and you could make it to this episode. I’m sure it was mind blowing.

Speaker 2: Yeah, well, I’m in Edinburgh where she was lying in state here, And the queues had been so long. I didn’t go, I ended up just watching it on TV, but it was quite something. To have a monarch die in Scotland.

GaryI bet it certainly was. Here is hoping that your Charles can measure up slightly, although hopefully he doesn’t go into battle as much as Charles Martel.

BenLike the French, Charles III, who was Charles the Simple.

GaryOh, yes. We can only wait. So now moving on to our number one, I think it was obvious even before we did the episode, that it has to be Charlemagne.

BenI mean, Do you want me to just go through what his scores are? In the Enchantéeround which is like visual legacy, the fame of his name, all that sort of thing, He got a 20 out of 20 . in En garde, which is how much, how well he does at war and all that and gaining personal power. He got, he did get a 19.5 because I think I marked him down for the Spanish expedition that didn’t go well but…

GaryThe Battle of Roncenvaux Pass where the right where.

BenEven then he spun it and it became the song of Roland. So you know, It’s a defeat in a way. But yeah, but anyway, so yeah, in Voulez-vous you know how well he governs. He got an 18. I think we marked him down slightly for anti-Semitism, the usual stuff and then something else. But I can’t quite remember. Oh-la-la He only got an eight because he wasn’t as scandalous as he could have been. But then of course, he reigned for 45 years. So he got a Vie en trone score of 15. So that’s 81, which is by far the highest that we’ve ever had. So ever since then, our kings have been cursed to follow Charlemagne.

GaryI mean, pretty much I’ve said that in terms of consequential figures, at least political figures. He was the most consequential political figure since Augustus in European history, and probably would be until Napoleon Bonaparte, just a giant of a figure. I mean, if Augustus set up the Roman Empire and Napoleon smashed the old feudal Europe, then Charlemagne is the one who he sets the stage for medieval Europe. It’s he’s really creating the customs, the divisions of society that are so important for Europe in terms of I mean, I probably. I know that most people are probably going to say his military conquests or his most notable thing. Maybe they are. I mean, he was truly incredible. He conquers Germania, Northern Italy, southern Denmark, northeastern Spain, and he makes vassals of a lot of territories on his eastern borders, not to, you know, and other places as well. But for me, I think maybe the biggest accomplishment is the Carolingian renaissance, which is one of the greatest expansions in culture, science, art, religion in centuries since the Roman Empire. So he truly is this giant of a figure.

BenAnd we finally get rid of sources, which is lovely.

GaryYeah. No, there was I think I forget exactly what it was, but I mean, I won’t remember the exact statistic, but I think in 100 years of Carolingian rule, there’s something like, I don’t know, nine times as many sources as all remaining Merovingian sources, something ridiculous.

Ben: So probably more than that. Yeah.

Gary: You’ll have to go back and listen to all of my episodes.

BenTo find that tidbit.

GaryYeah. Yes, please go on.

BenI mean, when it comes I mean, when it comes to rating Charlemagne, it’s more just like. I mean, like I did before with the also, like, it’s more about, like, nit picking little things than. You know, summarizing all of it, because there’s so much that happens. And what’s remarkable.

GaryYeah, please go on.

BenI mean, just the way he became Roman emperor. And it was very similar to the way that his dad became the king of France, where it was just a genius maneuvering of his sort of he played his cards right is basically what I’m trying to say in every conceivable way.

GaryAnd what’s incredible. Yeah, and it’s both part genius, part luck that so much of what he set out to do ended up working. So, for example, he has that marriage to Desiderata in order to give him strength in Italy but then pushes her aside and yet still manages to retain power because he is a both a competent and he is genteel enough that when a couple Lombard nobles decide to rise up against him, all of the other Lombard nobles just say, Oh, we’re not with those guys. You should probably do something about them. We’re totally on board with you. He Yeah, he was just so successful and he, not only that, but he had this huge vision for the future building roads and canals and really creating. Even new cities. I mean, let’s keep in mind that Aachen which becomes this incredible palace, a marvel at its time before he arrived, it was pretty much just a field. So one thing that I compared him is, I compared him to Augustus. And, you know, Augustus famously said that I found Rome a city of bricks, and left it a city of marble. Well, Charlemagne wasn’t as accomplished as Augustus in that regard, but he could say that he found Aachen in a field and made it a palace. So he might not have risen as high as Augustus, but from where he started, it’s incredible what he accomplished.

BenI mean, he became a successor to Augustus in a way. So I guess in a sense he did rise as high in that he became the quote unquote, Roman emperor. But yeah, a lot of it was replaced by time. Even the Roman emperor thing, it was only because the empire had this anomaly where they had a female emperor, Empress Irene. That was the..

GaryTo be clear, the Byzantine Empire, which claimed the Roman Empire’s mantle.

BenYes, the Eastern Roman. I’ve been listening to too many podcasts where they refer to it as the Roman Empire because they’re like, No, it’s a continuation. But yes, the Byzantine Empire, a lot of it you’re right, a lot of it was luck. It was sort of right, right place, right time. But he was he was the right man for the place in time. So you can’t blame him for that.

Gary I definitely agree that he wasn’t that scandalous. I think maybe the most scandalous thing and perhaps I might be wrong, but he, I think married at one point, married a very, very young girl. I think he was in his forties and she was 13 or maybe even 12 or something. I don’t know if that, the thing, though, is what I was going to say is that might be scandalous for now. He might get me too if he came to the present. But in that time was not a very scandalous thing.

BenI mean, actually, and this adds a bit of complexity to it. He was actually quite, I’m not going to say feminist because he you know, no one was a feminist back then, but he but he apparently gave his gave his daughters, gave his wife a lot of sort of sort of advisory roles and say in what happened, at least at court, sort of domestically at court. And when Louis comes in, he sort of does away with all of that. He says, no, no, no, sending my sisters off to Abby’s. And they’re no longer allowed to have these rumours of extramarital affairs. And and yeah, but Charlemagne, I mean, It’s really interesting because he didn’t want to marry off his daughters because he’d seen what had happened with some of his aunts getting married off to various dukes. And then that becoming a reason for those dukes to sort of rise up and say, well, I could be the heir then, because I’m descended from whoever. And so Charlemagne sort of kept them close and sort of allowed them to fulfill a very sort of a different sort of role in the royal household, which is really interesting.

GaryAnd then in one of his last campaigns, he reportedly had an elephant attack Vikings, if that is an interesting enough.

BenYes. That that is pretty amazing.

GarySo yeah, I mean, I suppose we could talk all day about Charlemagne, but there’s clearly a reason why he’s our number one. It’s why he has the great in his name. Because Charlemania, Charlemagne literally means Charles the Great. So, yeah, I’m glad that we could at least agree on this. I would be blown away if you chose Charles the Simp;e as your number one something.

BenWere you worried about that at some point? (laughter)

GaryI was not worried. I suspected that Charlemagne might have been number one. I had hope so.

BenHe’s also the only one we have given a two part episode to so far.

GaryOh, I gave him, I think it was four or five.

BenSo yeah, we’ve been try to, we’ve tried to keep it concise, but Philip Augustus, who’s our next episode to come out, will also be getting a two parter. He’s the first person since Charlemagne to get a two parter, so.

GaryWell, in that case, I very much look forward to ranking the Capetians with you. It might take me a little longer. I as covering hopefully all of French history to at least some degree. I’ve been a bit slow recently, but whenever I get on that horse, people can look forward. Hopefully to us covering the Capetians. I want to thank you very much for giving us your time. This has been fantastic, Ben, and I hope everyone checks out your podcast, A Battle Royale, which I will include links to.

BenThanks very much, Gary. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Enchanté

Gary: Enchantée