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The Divorce Case of Lothar II

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Lothar II was a Frankish1 king, the great-grandson of Charlemagne. He was born in about 838 AD and he and his two brothers inherited his father's, Lothar I's, kingdom in 855. Following Frankish customs, the land was divided between the three sons, with Lothar II receiving the central portion, the heartlands of Frankish power, called Lotharingia.

Early in his life, Lothar had been 'given' an aristocratic woman named Waldrada by his father. They formed a union of some kind and had a son together, named Hugh. This demonstrates that they were not fully married, as Hugh was a name the Carolingians often gave to illegitimate sons, and never to legitimate sons. Their relationship was more like that of master and concubine, though this does not preclude the existence of genuine feelings of affection between them.

Shortly after he became king, Lothar married another aristocratic woman, Theutberga. She was from a very powerful family whose support was important. However, after only a couple of years, the political advantage to having Theutberga as his wife had evaporated, so Lothar tried to divorce her to allow him to marry Waldrada, which would legitimise their son and guarantee the succession.

The Divorce

The attempted divorce dragged on for many years and was a key political issue in the 850s and 860s. At this time, attaining a divorce was not easy, especially given the power of Theutberga's family. Accordingly, Lothar made a very serious accusation against her, claiming that she had committed incest with her brother Hubert. This was bad enough by itself, but he further said that the incest was through anal intercourse. This was considered unacceptable under any circumstances, even between husband and wife. Not only this, but it supposedly resulted in a foetus which she aborted. In fact, medical knowledge was advanced enough at the time to know that this was not possible, but this information seems not to have been widely known.

Theutberga was able to clear her name in 858 by having a male champion successfully undertake trial by ordeal. This was a common test of innocence across medieval Europe, and could take the form of a duel, or other tests such as plunging a hand into boiling water. Success was supposed to represent God's judgement on a case because it was felt that He would not allow an innocent person to suffer. Lothar was forced to accept Theutberga back, probably under severe pressure from her powerful brother Hubert.

In 860, however, Theutberga's confessor2 supposedly revealed her guilt. Given this, Theutberga was forced to request permission to be allowed to remove herself from the world by entering a convent. Later, however, she fled to Charles the Bald, Lothar's uncle and territorial rival. They were not, however, divorced until after an ecclesiastical synod held in Aachen in 862. The nobles also gave their consent to the divorce as she had confessed. Lothar married Waldrada and the following year, papal legates accepted the marriage, probably under pressure.

The Pope, Nicholas I, was not happy and reversed the decision of the synod, meaning Lothar and Waldrada were not legally married. He also deposed the Archibishops of Cologne and Trier who had acted as Lothar's representatives by explaining Lothar's position to the Pope. The king's brother Louis, Emperor of Italy, was angry at their deposition and went to Rome to try to force their restitution, but failed. Late in the case, Lothar and his supporters made a number of new claims. They said that Lothar and Waldrada had been fully married, though this is unlikely as they gave their son a name not given to legitimate sons, and that Theutberga was infertile. Given that they had only been married two years, this cannot have been certain.

A different papal legate forced Lothar to take Theutberga back again in August 865. Waldrada was instructed to go to Rome for judgement. On her return, Lothar rejected Theutberga again. On 2 February, 866, the Pope excommunicated Waldrada3. Nicholas was succeeded by Adrian II in 867 and Lothar decided to try to persuade the new Pope of the justice of his case. He therefore set off for Rome where he died in 869 before achieving his goal.

Both Waldrada and Theutberga lived the rest of their lives in convents. Lothar's uncles Louis the German and Charles the Bald took Lothar's lands in the absence of a legitimate heir. It had been in their interests all along that Lothar and Theutberga's marriage should continue for this reason. Hincmar of Rheims, one of Charles' archbishops, had even written a long text explaining the weaknesses of Lothar's case.

An artefact has been found which, it is suspected, was a gift of restitution to Theutberga from Lothar, probably commissioned when he received her back in 865. This gift was an engraved crystal.

The Lothar Crystal

The Lothar Crystal is, as you've probably guessed, a crystal. A rock crystal, to be precise, of about 11.4 cm (4½ inches) in diameter. Held in the British Museum, it is mounted in copper which was added sometime in the 15th to 17th Century. A crack in the crystal from top to bottom occurred when it was thrown into a river during the French Revolution. It is inscribed from the back with the biblical story of Susana and may have been the suggestion of Hincmar, whose writings show him to be fond of the story of Susana.

The tale comes from the Book of Daniel, and tells of a woman, Susana, who rejects two elders of her village who proposition her. As a result, they accuse her, falsely, of adultery. She is convicted and sentenced to death for her crime, but was saved by the prophet Daniel. He re-examined the case and had the elders examined separately. Their stories did not completely match, so Daniel was able to have Susana declared innocent. The story is told in pictures and small inscriptions running clockwise around the crystal.

The crystal is thought to be connected to Lothar and his divorce for several reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it is inscribed with the words 'Lothar, king of the Franks, ordered me to be made'. This is not definite proof since there was more than one Frankish king named Lothar, but the subject matter narrows it down. The tale of Susana does parallel that of Theutberga rather neatly. There are a few problems with this interpretation – Susana was accused of adultery, while Theutberga was accused of incest. However, it does seem the most likely possibility, especially given that it was found in the abbey to which Theutberga retired.

1The Franks ruled the Carolingian Empire, which consisted of most of modern France, some of modern Germany, and a number of other regions across Europe including northern Italy and areas to the east of their German lands.2In the Catholic faith, people are expected to confess their sins to a priest.3An ecclesiastical punishment which was thought to ensure that the excommunicated person could not go to heaven.

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